Students, Ann Arbor residents gather for Town Hall to discuss opposition to Richard Spencer
University of Michigan student organizations #StopSpencer and Human Rights Through Education hosted a town hall meeting Saturday at the Michigan Union to discuss tactics for fighting white supremacy and oppression on the University campus. A large crowd of students, faculty and Ann Arbor residents attended.
#StopSpencer is a coalition of more than 10 student organizations protesting the University administration’s decision to potentially allow white supremacist Richard Spencer to speak on campus. It aims to keep the campus and city of Ann Arbor updated on the Spencer negotiations, and encourage the community to take action.
Even after completing the #StopSpencer Week of Action in November, student opposition to Spencer’s visit remains resolute. This is especially true as the University nears the end of January deadline to issue potential dates for the event.
The town hall attendees learned about the University’s current ruling on Spencer’s visit and discussed their thoughts on actions might be necessary in order to keep the community safe.
LSA seniors Leah Schneck, Kelly Garland, Neala Conlon Berkowski and Hoai An Pham led the town hall meeting. Schenk listed several ways in which students, staff and Ann Arbor residents could become more involved in the fight. They also allowed the audience to give their own suggestions, including business outreach, protest training and urging the University administration to work with students who will be on campus over Spring Break.
Music, Theatre & Dance freshmen Sofia Wagner said she admires the steps #StopSpencer takes to encourage students to become a part of fight against Spencer’s potential visit.
“I really appreciate what the #StopSpencer group is doing because they’re putting in the work to give the UM community information on the Spencer situation in general, and then also hosting these meetings so we can attack this issue practically,” Wagner said. “This meeting was not only informative, but also got a lot of people, myself included, fired up about combating this issue. I barely knew about this issue beforehand and (I) am now ready to do my part in protesting against this disgusting speaker.”
Spencer has visited campuses across the United States, sparking controversy and massive student protests over his radical idea “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” In May, Spencer led a torch-wielding protest at Charlottesville, Va. that catalyzed unstable tensions in the community, which many blame for the city’s violence in August. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency at the University of Florida in October in anticipation of Spencer’s arrival, and the school spent $500,000 on security.
Spencer sued both Michigan State University and Ohio State University after the schools denied his request to speak on their campuses.
University President Mark Schlissel described the difficulty of allowing Spencer’s visit in a statement.
“My foremost priority is ensuring the safety of everyone at this university. However as a public university, the law and our commitment to free speech forbid us from declining a speaker based on the presumed content of speech,” the statement read.
The town hall meeting was a vital part of an ongoing discussion taking place at the University. The leaders not only gave a complete timeline of events involving Spencer and the University, but also spawned group discussions that encouraged attendees to share their feelings about his presence on campus and how to react in a proactive and peaceful manner which protects the student body.
Art & Design freshman Betsy Stubb reflected on the need for more discussion between students and administration about Spencer’s visit.
“I found the town hall meeting to be incredibly informative and eye opening. I knew very little information about Richard Spencer's appearance because administration has been keeping students in the dark,” she said. “I think the best way we can combat the hate and violence that Spencer spreads is for all of us to rally together and show that racism and bigotry are not acceptable at U of M. We need to help foster an environment where students of all races, religions and sexualities feel safe and protected, because under the current administration this is not the case.”
However, Rackham student Maximillian Alvarez, co-founder of the Campus Anti-fascist Network at Umich, noted though the presence of University’s administration may be lacking in discussions, there is a growing amount of involvement within the community.
“I am very pleased with how the meeting went and very pleased with the turnout. We are used to working with organizations and individuals who come to our meetings, but it is really, really great to see the community at large take the next steps,” he said. “We are seeing a lot of people here from local businesses, from Ypsilanti, from Ann Arbor, new undergraduates that I haven’t seen before, so I think it is really encouraging to see that more and more people are taking matters into their own hands and working together to defend their communities and each other. It creates something positive out of a rather unfortunate situation.”