ANN ARBOR, MICH. - Hundreds of University of Michigan students walked out of class Wednesday to protest the possibility of white supremacist Richard Spencer visiting campus.
After gathering on the Diag on campus, students marched around campus, heading into buildings interrupting classes.
"If you are with us, join us," they chanted. Teams of students ran ahead of the main body of the protesters, opening doors to classrooms so the message could go in. Other students ducked into the classrooms, gave a short speech and then headed back out.
In the lobby of the chemistry building, the protesters chanted and made speeches, while one floor below a group of elementary students on a class trip finished up lunch and stared up at the protesters.
At issue is whether Spencer should appear on campus.
Last week, in a rare special meeting of the Board of Regents, U-M President Mark Schlissel announced the school would begin to talk to Spencer about where he could speak on campus.
"After consulting widely with many members of our community, I made the difficult decision to begin discussions with Richard Spencer’s group to determine whether he will be allowed to rent space to speak on the University of Michigan campus. If we cannot assure a reasonably safe setting for the event, we will not allow it to go forward," Schlissel said in his opening statement. "We are legally prohibited from blocking such requests based solely on the content of that speech, however sickening it is."
Students have been upset with that decision. Several students organizations have banded together to protest Schlissel's decision and to force the university to ban Spencer. The march Wednesday was part of a series of events this week. The group is calling for students to strike on Thursday and not show up on campus for anything, including classes.
"This is a safety issue, not a free speech issue," U-M junior Marcus Williams, 21, of Chicago, said as he marched in the protest. "Having this man on campus and his supporters threatens me. They will cause violence. Why let him bring that here?"
A lawyer representing Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student who made the request for space at U-M, had threatened U-M with a lawsuit if Spencer isn't allowed on campus.
Earlier this year, the group requested space at Michigan State University, which turned down the request.
"After consultation with law enforcement officials, Michigan State University has decided to deny the National Policy Institute’s request to rent space on campus to accommodate a speaker," the university said in a statement then. "This decision was made due to significant concerns about public safety in the wake of the tragic violence in Charlottesville."
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