Op-Ed: Student Reactions on UF’s Recommendation not to Protest Spencer’s Event

This Thursday, white nationalist Richard Spencer from the National Policy Institute (NPI) will speak at the University of Florida.

“The values of our universities are not shared by Mr. Spencer, the National Policy Institute or his followers,” said UF President Kent Fuchs in an email to the student body. “No one at our university invited Mr. Spencer, nor is anyone at UF sponsoring this event. UF has been clear and consistent in its denunciation of all hate speech and racism, and in particular the racist speech and white-nationalist values of Mr. Spencer.”

President Fuchs went on to explain, “If you are like me, I expect you are surprised and even shocked to learn that UF is required by law to allow Mr. Spencer to speak his racist views on our campus…”

The email urged students not to give any attention to the NPI. Students have been discouraged from protesting and encouraged to stay away from Spencer’s event.

The NPI is able to speak at UF because of the protections that the first amendment provides, namely free speech. This propelled “The Brief” to ask fellow law students one question:

What is your reaction to the school’s response urging students not to protest the Richard Spencer event this Thursday?

Patrick Brathwaite

“I think the school has counter-protested when the president expressly voiced dissent and declined Spencer’s first attempt. There were first amendment issues, and the university acted accordingly. Now, I think the university is making a calculated decision on what attention it wants to provide and receive on this matter and is focused on the success and safety of the students and the institution first. These things can get out of hand quickly. I think the university has made a wise response.”

– Patrick Brathwaite, vice president of LLSA and an editor for the Florida Journal of International Law.

Summer Goff

“Personally, I think the administration has made the right decision in asking students to avoid the event rather than protest. By coming out and protesting or counter-protesting students would give Richard Spencer and his “cause” exactly what he desires: attention. While it is great to actively support what you believe in and protest and challenge hateful, discriminatory viewpoints counter to values our country holds dear in this instance such action will likely only result in increasing Mr. Spencer’s visibility. Additionally, the school has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its students and the best way to keep students safe is if they do not attend the event. Ultimately, however, the decision of whether to protest or counter-protest will be up to students as they have a constitutional right to do so should they desire.”

– Summer Goff, member of the Florida Law Review and UF Law Republicans.

Haseem Alam

“I was in the ‘Ignore the Nazis’ camp for quite a long time. I always thought ignoring white supremacists and hateful groups of all types was the way to drain them of their strength. I always thought that these groups craved attention and if we deprived them of this attention, they would go away. But, Charlottesville has changed my opinion. They [the white supremacists] have power, influence, and momentum now. Now that these hate groups have this momentum, they don’t want us to protest, they want us to be afraid.

“So, I believe we should not only protest but we HAVE to protest. We cannot show fear. By not formally condoning student counter-protests, UF’s administration has played into what Spencer and his like want. Our resolve should be stronger after Charlottesville, not weaker.”

– Haseen Alam, president of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association and the social media chair of Gator Law ACLU.

Anthony Sabatini

“Counter-protesting is a silly and often dangerous thing to do. The Charlottesville tragedy was drastically escalated by the 12 hours of back and forth protesting and counter-protesting. The .001 % of the American population that identifies with the heinous views of white nationalism should be simply ignored. Instead, the media and counter-protesters play right into Richard Spencer’s plan to garner as much attention as possible. I think the greatest act of condemnation in a democratic society is total and absolute indifference to a person and their views.”

– Anthony Sabatini, president of Law College Republicans and a National Guard Officer

Lane Sheldon

“While I understand the bind that the administration is in, it’s disappointing to the students and the entire Gainesville community to see such a lack of action. There’s an opportunity to clearly denounce white supremacy and Nazism and instead, for fear of a lawsuit they think they’ll lose, the school has chosen to spend upwards of $500,000, money that could be spent on life-saving services for our students like the Counseling and Wellness Center, on security for the event. This isn’t an issue of free speech, or even of hate speech. That’s protected. But in this country protected speech does not extend to fighting words, aka words without social value, directed to a specific individual, that would provoke a reasonable member of the group about whom the words are spoken. Richard Spencer will and intends to invoke violence in our community, that much is clear from his prior actions. It’s a blight on the wonderful campus that I grew up admiring and ultimately attended for both undergraduate and law school.”

– Lane Sheldon, member of the Florida Moot Court Team and the UF Law School Democrats

“I think UF is making the right call. I hope the event does not become violent, but there is so much violence and danger associated with Richard Spencer events that organizing a counter-protest could very well place students in danger. I think UF has done the best that it can- increasing security and issuing statements condemning what Richard Spencer stands for. President Fuchs has made UF’s position on the matter clear.”

– Katy Shoemaker, secretary and treasurer for the International Law Society, ILSP Ambassador to the Class of 2020, Teaching Assistant to Professor Jackson, and a member of the Immigration Law Society

“Of course, every individual has liberty to say whatever they’d like, but those same individuals are also at liberty to get punched in the face.”

– Carlos Fernandez, social chair of JMBA, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, secretary of MLSA, and member of LLSA, CABA, OutLaw and self-proclaimed “Yo Dean’s Favorite Law Student 2017”


About Jessica Beugen 9 Articles
Jessica Beugen is a 2L at the University of Florida and is the founder and co-editor-in-chief of The Brief. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Art in Multimedia Journalism. She saw the need for a unified student voice on campus during her third week of school, so she recruited Meghan Bradley and Kéran Billaud to help make the idea of a student-run school news service real. Her interest in law school began after she became the youngest GAL (Guardian ad Litem) in Palm Beach County. In the future, she hopes to be able to continue to do work for with children in the dependency system. Originally from Minnesota, she loves being outside, hiking, running, yoga and waterskiing.