UF Students Worried And Curious About Spencer’s Speech On Campus
White nationalist Richard Spencer will speak at the University of Florida Thursday. It comes two months after violent protests erupted near the University of Virginia, following a march led by his group the National Policy Institute.
Vibhor Nayar spends most of his time at the University of Florida studying mechanical engineering. But, as president of the Indian American Student Association, the senior from Fort Lauderdale is distracted by the pending arrival of a white nationalist group on the Gainesville campus.
He’s been speaking a lot with other minority students, who feel a visit from Richard Spencer and his group could promote hate speech on a campus they call home.
“What worries me is that I’ve had people come up to me that were international students that were local Indian students and that were Muslim students and they’ve all told me they don’t feel a sense of home here or they don’t feel a sense of belonging here,” said Nayar. “They don’t feel safe here.”
The Gainesville campus with 50,000 students is just the latest public university Spencer said his group is visiting. He’s says his group is non-violent. He’s coming to promote White identity politics, an anti-immigrant philosophy that believes white Americans are superior to other ethnic groups.
There are some students on the UF campus who support Spencer’s right to promote controversial ideas, as they are protected by the First Amendment.
UDan Elken is a second year chemistry student .
Dan Elken is a second year chemistry student. The 19-year-old Libertarian said while he disagrees with white nationalism, he is still considering attending Spencer’s speech.
“I would like to go. It’s just something that as a politically conscious and active individual that I’d at least like to witness,” said Elken.
But Elken appears to be in the minority. In fact, the university administration is reluctantly allowing Spencer to rent space, only after a lawsuit was threatened. That’s because Spencer’s group, or any other, can’t be denied the opportunity to speak on a public university campus.
Officials say they have no choice, and will be spending around $500 thousand in security for the event at the performing arts center on the western edge of campus. U-F spokeswoman Janine Sikes
“Our idea of a perfect event would be that no one would show up and no media would cover the event,” said UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes.
Instead, the event will be getting the same security as a gator football game. And security will also be present all over campus. That means students who will be attending class may have to show id to get into some campus buildings.
Second year student Kasia Weich is taking up the university’s offer to allow students the choice to attend class the day of Spencer’s speech. The physics major from Coral Springs plans to protest. She says spencer’s ideology reminds her of her relatives in Poland who died during the holocaust.
“If I didn’t stand up against something like that I don’t think I could live with myself,” said Weich.
Weich will join a campus protest coinciding with Spencer’s speech. Mitch Emerson, a political activist from Orlando started organizing the protests on Facebook, back when Spencer first asked to speak in Gainesville In September.
Emerson says he is working with local groups, and is encouraging carpools and charter buses to come to Gainesville from all over the state.
“My expectation is that there will be a lot of us,” said Emerson. “Significantly more of us than them and we will make our voices heard and we will make it clear that type of white supremacist ideology is not supported.”
An estimated 800 tickets will be handed out for Spencer’s speech. Initially, the university was going to handle it, but that changed after people started talking about getting tickets and throwing them away, or using them for free drinks at a local bar.
No one knows who will show up to attend Spencer’s speech or the protest. But many are ready for all the focus on the university to end.
Get The 90.7 WMFE Newsletter
Your trusted news source for the latest Central Florida news, updates on special programs and more.GET THE LATEST