UF students and security brace for Spencer event

By Austin Sanchez | gargoyle@flagler.edu

After an initial attempt to block Richard Spencer from speaking on campus, the University of Florida is permitting the white nationalist to speak on Thursday.

Spencer, heads a white nationalist think tank in Alexandria and led white supremacist protests in Charlottesville.

The confrontation left one dead. In August, President W. Kent Fuchs denied Spencer’s think-tank, the National Policy Institute (NPI), from renting event space to host the speech. In a press release, he cited, “potential risks with campus, community, state and federal law enforcement officials,” for the denial, according to the press release.

After months of back and forth, Fuchs conceded and granted permission for the event. In an email sent to students and faculty, Fuchs urged students to “shun” Spencer and his followers in order to, “block his attempt at further visibility.”

UF’s Black Student Union Treasurer Tyler Brown expressed her support of the University but voiced concerns about student safety.

“They’ve been pretty transparent about their understanding for our safety and the precautions they’re going to take before this event and after,” she said. “I know (Fuchs) doesn’t stand for what Richard Spencer stands for.”

Spencer and NPI were preparing to challenge the University’s denial on the grounds of violating their first amendment rights. Fuchs, in the email to students and faculty, was skeptical of the viability of the claim, but ultimately chose to avoid a constitutional standoff.

Similar conflicts have ensued recently at UC Berkeley and Middlebury College in Vermont.

“It’s his first amendment right,” Brown said, “it’s his freedom of speech. I just hope that the school will protect minorities in the way that we need to be protected, because we all know what happened at Charlottesville … we don’t want to take that chance of that happening here at UF.”

UF is expecting security costs for the event to exceed $500,000 while Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in hopes of quelling violent protests.

While students have displayed signs of unity and protests throughout the weeks, there have so far been no major disturbances and classes are adhering to their regular schedule.

BSU leadership discussed potential protests, but ultimately decided to heed Fuchs’ advice.

“BSU will not be protesting at all,” Brown said, “but, of course, if students wanted to protest we just hope they take precautions and will be safe during this time.”

Brown and BSU said they “just want to bring everyone together to understand that we’re all here for one another and if you are scared or need someone to talk to, we’re that backbone.”

Spencer is a white nationalist who has expressed a desire to form a “white ethno-state,” refused to condemn Hitler, led Nazi-inspired chants and suggested women shouldn’t make foreign policy or have the right to vote.

He is scheduled to speak Thursday at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.

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