My oldest son is a junior at the University of Florida.
Today, there will be a man speaking on campus who is incredibly controversial. He has repeatedly articulated some shockingly divisive rhetoric. Meet Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, who promotes white superiority and thus identity politics.
What should the university do?
Spencer tends to attract supporters and protestors who have a perceived increased propensity for violence. Most of the supporters and protestors reportedly will not be associated with the university in any way.
Again, my son is there.
(When we are directly affected — when our friends or family are affected — we tend to be more passionate… less objective… and maybe even less tolerant of different opinion or approach. Which leads to today’s clunkiest sentence: who we love most, who is affected the most, most affects our perspective and response.)
To be clear, Spencer was not invited by the university; his organization rented space on campus, and because UF is a public and not private university, any denial of Spencer speaking would raise a First Amendment issue.
Isn’t that the crux of much of the current conflict?
There is a battle going on in regard to how much free speech we should allow.
Remember that protest, too, is a form of speech.
So… how much free speech should we allow?
… especially when it offends us. To offend is to wholeheartedly disrespect.
The challenge is that “to offend” is also an incredibly vague verb. It’s totally subjective. What’s offensive to some is not necessarily offensive to another. We get to pick and choose what we’re offended by, and we typically don’t have as much patience with another person’s offense, as it’s simply easier to dismiss another’s rationale rather than attempt to sincerely understand why they feel differently.
While it would have been easier for the University of Florida to deny Spencer’s speaking — especially since university president W. Kent Fuchs has soundly denounced Spencer’s rhetoric — the school has instead decided to “lead the way.”
Said Fuchs two days ago: “I urge our campus community to join together, respect one another and promote positive speech, while allowing for differing opinions… It is up to every student, faculty member, staff member, and myself to demonstrate our university values of respect and inclusion in all that we do. We have an opportunity to lead the way.”
I will share that such has not been a popular opinion with a vocal contingent of parents. Several from their understandable bent — no doubt because their sons and daughters are affected — want the university to do more… from shutting Spencer down to calling off class for the day. Note that the school is incurring $500,000 in security costs and bringing in significantly more law enforcement, attempting to be as prepared as possible for any violence.
What I also see is that the University of Florida believes in the totality of education. They want their students to learn to think on their own, preparing them for the world that awaits after these four some years; some of what awaits is not pretty and seems to be getting worse. The school seems clear, no less — as much as they disagree with this divisive antagonist — that they do not need to become an echo chamber, a place where students are only exposed to ideas with which they agree.
Ok, deep breath. Time to allow this to unfold. Time for this parent to say a prayer or two…
For the safety of the students in Gainesville…
For each of us… to join together, respect one another and promote positive speech… while allowing for differing opinions…