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‘Free speech or white supremacy?’: East Coast edition

Amid all the controversy surrounding his invitation to speak, self-proclaimed Islamophobe Robert Spencer gave his contentious talk last night. If you check the comments on that article, you’ll see the hate and bigotry that Spencer represents, which leads to my confusion: Who in the Stanford College Republicans thought that Robert Spencer would be representative of all conservatives? Are they trying to paint a worse picture of conservatives in general? If these hate-spewing Internet trolls and Islamophobes are the best that the Republican Party can muster, it seems like they’re just shooting themselves in the foot by publicizing it so much.

Anyway, I’ve digressed enough; there are many more articles about Robert Spencer on The Daily opinions page if you are interested in reading.

I’d like to bring attention to a similar event on the East Coast, at a place I hold very dear in my heart: Blacksburg, Virginia. An analogous uproar rages here – the debate between expressing one’s opinions and what should be allowed in a university setting. At Virginia Tech, protests against self-proclaimed white supremacist Mark Neuhoff of the English department were held throughout campus. Earlier this year, a few days after the clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia Tech senior Tori Coan discovered incriminating posts from Neuhoff’s social media claiming himself to be a white supremacist. After the public learned of this information, student-led protests crashed President Timothy Sands’ State of the University address geared towards donors and alumni.

I’d agree that Neuhoff had the freedom of expression to say what he did. But it is totally unacceptable for an institution of higher learning to continue to defend him and allow him to teach.

First off, no one can say they’re a white supremacist and still remain impartial through the grading and teaching of a course. If I were to believe the statement “white people are better than every other race” so much to even post about it online, of course that’d affect the decisions I’d make in both my life. Thus, it is highly unlikely that the grading could be considered fair, and there’d definitely be subliminal, if not extremely conscious, decisions that could affect a student’s future based simply on race.

Also, as an institution of higher learning, Virginia Tech is supposed to pride itself on being a diverse and welcoming place for people of all races. What does it say about a university’s standards if it knowingly allows a white supremacist to remain within a department? Also, it is totally within reason for Virginia Tech as an employer to terminate an employee who does not follow community standards. After all, the precedent is there, after University of Tampa fired a professor for his thoughts on Hurricane Harvey. What’s holding Virginia Tech back from firing Neuhoff now?

Finally, hate speech legitimately poses a threat. Freedom of speech and expression should definitely be allowed – unless it puts someone’s life in jeopardy. Soon after Neuhoff was exposed, Coan began receiving many threats including pledges to “fuck her up” and “destroy her.” From that same article, Coan said, “I’m concerned first and foremost about my safety. I don’t feel safe on campus.” What kind of friends does a white supremacist most likely have? Other white supremacists, and dangerous ones, of course. The anti-fascist group New River Against Fascism noted:

“Who is Mark talking to? Well, his 1,830 Facebook friends. This list is composed of members of the alt-right and white nationalists from around the globe. He is posting his hatred, disguised as speech, to members of White Lives Matter, Vanguard America, Traditional Workers Party, neo-Nazis and European far-right extremists.”

From the same Root article, Neuhoff actually called out Coan for “trying to get him fired,” and given his menacing cohort of acquaintances, I’d be terrified too if I were Coan. Neuhoff’s actions directly led to the month-and-a-half-long harassment of a student, so why is he still employed by the government?

Neuhoff’s white supremacist statements are covered by freedom of speech, that’s for sure. But, that doesn’t mean there can’t be repercussions, especially from an employer. Virginia Tech needs to step up and reevaluate their vows to diversity and student safety.

 

Contact Tiger Sun at tgsun ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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