UT must protect students of color from hate speech

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Photo Credit: Yifan Lyu | Daily Texan Staff

Editor's note: Janhavi Nemawarkar is a candidate to be the next Daily Texan Editor-in-Chief. The following editorial ran alongside another by Laura Hallas, who is also running for the position. Be sure to cast your ballot on March 1 and 2 at utexasvote.org to weigh in on who should take on that role next.

The frightening rise of the “alt-right” (the benign term that white supremacists and neo-Nazis have given their movement) as an increasingly acceptable political ideology has given some of its spokespeople platforms beyond social media. Richard Spencer, who was invited to speak at Texas A&M University, and Milo Yiannopoulos, who on his tour of college campuses was invited to speak at UC Berkeley, are both spokespeople for the movement. 

In both cases, massive student protests broke out. At A&M, protests occurred during Spencer’s speech. At UC Berkeley, violent protests caused the University to cancel Yiannopoulos’ invitation. The resulting national outcry asked whether these protests were fair — and whether these speakers should still be allowed to speak on campus under the First Amendment.   

But we must learn to balance the protection of free speech with the fight against the normalization of these racist ideologies. There is a distinct difference between engaging in a contentious dialogue and the type of hate speech that emboldens racists. It is the role of students, organizations, student-run media and professors to ensure that open, wide-ranging discussions continue on campus. But in the interest of supporting students of color, students and university administrators must draw a line and ensure that individuals who espouse specifically hostile views are not validated by receiving a platform to speak here.

Make no mistake: What Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos advocate constitute as threatening ideologies. Spencer introduced the term “alt-right” and advocates for the creation of an “ethno-state” for white people. And Yiannopoulos — an editor for the right-wing “news” website Breitbart — is an Internet troll who regularly spouts outrageously offensive statements and was banned from Twitter after he led a deeply misogynistic and racist online harassment campaign against “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones. 

Students of color and undocumented students have every right to feel threatened by the exposure given to those who joke about returning to a time akin to Nazi Germany, openly disdain minorities and immigrants and believe women should only bear children. Speech can’t be taken in a vacuum — Donald Trump’s presidential election victory was accompanied by an outbreak of hate crimes around the country, including on college campuses. Although he didn’t explicitly condone the crimes, his anti-immigrant rhetoric has certainly emboldened white nationalists, who celebrated the outcome of the 2016 election as a victory for their own movement.

Students are understandably on edge, and their right to protest peacefully against the invitation of these individuals must be respected. And universities must stand by their students — they cannot reasonably claim diversity as a strength of their student body without supporting their students of color. Otherwise, they continue to protect only the hegemonic belief structures that are already in power.

Free speech and unfettered exploration of ideologies different from our own will always be protected by those who understand the value of a university. ATX Resists and other organizations of their ilk that attempt to organize against anti-Muslim posters and fascism are well within their rights to do so. The poorly thought-out and hurtful Young Conservatives of Texas’ anti-affirmative action bake sale might have been protected by First Amendment rights, but the resulting mobilization of the student body inspired a dialogue that ultimately brought to head dueling points of view on
affirmative action.

But even in the classroom, we accept limits: when we analyze World War II we are never under the impression that Nazi Germany was sympathetic. We can still engage with one another — as long as we have a fundamental understanding of each other’s humanity and rights. 

Free speech is still the fundamental, bedrock value in our democracy — and the value that comes from engaging with viewpoints different from our own must always be protected. But we have an obligation, as students, student-run media and administrators, to never welcome white supremacists and neo-Nazis to campus under the guise of free speech.

Nemawarkar is a Plan II and government sophomore from Austin.