The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
White supremacist Richard Spencer will not be speaking at the University of Michigan this semester, according to a statement released Friday afternoon.
The University will offer Spencer dates after the end of the winter semester.
University President Mark Schlissel announced in November his administration will move forward with Spencer’s request, provided they can ensure a safe environment for the speech.
“Consistent with earlier U-M communications, the university will continue its ongoing safety and security assessments and will offer possible dates based on these assessments,” the November statement reads.
After a lawsuit regarding Spencer’s request to speak on Michigan State University’s campus, MSU has agreed to allow Spencer to speak on their East Lansing campus on March 5.
In an email to The Daily, Kyle Bristow, an attorney representing Spencer’s team, said they would prefer to hold an event over the summer in order to draw a larger number of attendees, rather than a second event in the state of Michigan too soon after March 5. Additionally, Bristow said there are “three major secret Alt-Right conferences” occurring over the spring, and he didn’t want supporters to have to choose among conflicting events.
“By holding the UM event at a time when there are no other Alt-Right conferences, the amount of people who may show up in support of the speakers could number in the hundreds rather than in the dozens,” Bristow wrote. “By spacing the MSU and UM events apart, more people will simply have an opportunity to participate with them.”
Some University students were appeased by the decision to postpone Spencer’s visit. One of these individuals, LSA sophomore Megan Zabik, said it is important for the University to refuse Spencer a platform.
“It’s a responsible decision,” Zabik said. “We have to keep on denying those types of people a platform, especially a platform like a university that’s supposed to be academic and representative of principles like anti-Semitism and anti-racism.”
However, Zabik pointed out that simply holding off on Spencer’s visit does not solve the problem at hand.
“I think that postponing Spencer is avoiding the issue,” Zabik said. “I don’t know if it’s a problem that just this University alone can solve. I think all universities have to deny the platform because that will actually send a statement that we don’t stand for white supremacy.”
LSA sophomore Yu-Ting Chiang shared Zabik’s sentiment. Chiang explained delaying the visit does not change the derogatory tone of his speeches.
“I feel like it was a smart choice for them to postpone his visit, although I feel that they are not solving any problems by doing so,” Chiang said. “However, they are definitely avoiding the problem. The university should not allow him to speak because he is directly targeting a group of people to hurt.”
In an email to The Daily, LSA senior Hoai An Pham, a #StopSpencer member, attributed the decision to postpone the visit to the efforts of student and community activists.
“It speaks to the power of organizing and community pressure that the University has postponed the visit,” Pham wrote. “The decision to postpone Spencer’s visit to a later date puts less pressure on organizers and Stop Spencer in the sense that we have more time to plan, and ensure that we are doing all that we can to ensure safety in the event that Spencer does come. However, it is frustrating that the lack of transparency around this issue meant that there were incredibly high levels of stress when it seemed that Spencer’s visit was imminent.”
Though Schlissel previously stated he will only continue with negotiations with Spencer if the safety of the student body can be assured, Pham explained that regardless of timing, there is no point at which community members would be safe.
“As we have stated before, safety cannot be assured on any level when Spencer is involved. Our statement that is linked in the previous statement talks about our opinions towards student safety over spring break specifically,” Pham wrote. “If Spencer comes in the summer, and not in this semester, then that means that many of the consequences and danger of Spencer’s visit will be faced by community members. If Schlissel is prioritizing the safety of University of Michigan students over Ann Arborites and those in the surrounding area, then his decision makes sense, but if he truly cares about the safety of the entire community, then there is no ‘reasonable’ time that Spencer can visit.”
Moving forward, Pham said she hoped the University would take responsibility for the areas on campus where white supremacy exists and clearly express the ways they plan on fighting it.
“Ultimately, this is not about Spencer – he is just one man in a bigger movement,” Pham wrote. “We would like to see the University acknowledge the ways in which white supremacy is present on this campus and its policies, the ways in which they have been complicit in white supremacy, and a clear and active commitment to fight white supremacy.”