MSU reviewing request from group headed by white supremacist Richard Spencer

Free speech vs Hate speech

EAST LANSING, MICH. - Michigan State University is reviewing a request from a group headed by prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer to speak on campus.

MSU announced Wednesday, Aug. 17 it had been contacted by the National Policy Institute seeking to be on the East Lansing campus. Spencer is the president and director of the organization.

The request sought any available space on campus in mid-September.

"We are aware of no connection with any MSU-related group or individual, but such is not required to seek publicly available space," MSU President Lou Anna Simon said in a statement.

"No decision has yet been made. We are reviewing the request closely in light of the deplorable violence in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend.

"Michigan State takes seriously its obligations to accommodate a broad range of speech. As our record shows, this university does not determine who can access public spaces based on what they think or say.

"Allowing access to public spaces would in no way constitute endorsement of messages that might be delivered there. NPI and similar groups’ events staged at American campuses are intended to provoke reaction that might seem to justify organizers’ racist and divisive messages, which we categorically reject," Simon's statement said.

There is no timetable set to make a decision, MSU spokesman Jason Cody said.

Reaction across the Michigan State campus was swift.

"There's no way they should be on this campus," said MSU junior Mark Randall, 22, of Detroit. "They are all about hate and violence."

MSU sophomore Mary Richards, 19, of Grand Rapids, said she thinks the decision is simple.

"It's hate speech," she said. "I can't see any reason why they should be allowed here."

Student body president Lorenzo Santavicca said he's not surprised by the request.

"I think it is exactly what we need to be prepared for," he told the Free Press in a telephone interview. Santavicca said MSU's administration has consulted with him and other student leaders.

He said he was supportive of free speech on campus, but noted there was a line that could be crossed with violence, as happened at the University of Virginia last week.

"We need to consider what does this group bring to this institution. If they are not providing any educational value to the institution we should turn it down."

Spencer and his group have made space requests at two other universities across the nation. He was scheduled to speak at Texas A&M on Sept. 11. On Monday, the university canceled that event.

He also requested space at the University of Florida. On Tuesday, that university denied his request.

“I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for,"  UF President Kent Fuchs said in a statement posted to the university's website.

"That said, the First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others. The likelihood of violence and potential injury — not the words or ideas — has caused us to take this action. Denying this request for university space is the safest and most responsible decision we can make.”

Spencer told the Associated Press he would fight that denial in court.

University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said he was unaware of any similar request for space at U-M.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights released a statement regarding the group's request for space at MSU.

“Richard Spencer has the same legal right to assemble and to speak that we all enjoy, and we will defend that right.  But we condemn, in the strongest possible terms, his message of hate.  If his words threaten or incite violence against any individual or group, then he will have crossed an important legal line. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. We will be watching.”

The requests come after a group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched at the University of Virginia on Friday and a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville turned into deadly riots.

MSU has had controversial speakers before. In December of last year, Milo Yiannopoulos came to MSU as part of his "Dangerous Faggot" tour. Yiannopoulos, a former Brietbart News editor, is an avowed anti-feminist and critic of "PC culture" on college campuses.

Seven people, including two students, were arrested prior to the event, and were cited for violating MSU's disorderly assembly or conduct ordinance. At the time, an MSU spokesperson said "speakers from all political persuasions are welcome at MSU. If anywhere, universities should be places for viewpoints to be debated."

© 2017, Detroit Free Press


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment