Free speech is one of the most fraught issues on college campuses these days, and Texas A&M is the latest school to land at the center of that potential maelstrom.
Richard Spencer, who sits on the far right edge of the alt-right, announced last week that he’d be speaking at the school, even though he was never formally invited. The event is being hosted by local resident Preston Wiginton, and Texas A&M says it is a private event that they are treating no differently than other private events on campus. While the specifics of his speech are unknown, it is likely that Spencer will key his speech around the white nationalist ideas the alt right movement is based on.
Some other colleges, faced with the prospect of incendiary speakers turning up uninvited, have decided to ban them and even threaten them with arrest. Instead, Texas A&M has decided to counterprogram around his visit.
The school has announced an “Aggies United” event the night of Spencer’s scheduled address, December 6. The event will take place at Kyle Field, their football stadium. The speakers for the event have yet to be announced, but school officials say it was planned after students and faculty voiced their opposition to Spencer and his event on campus.
“Students, faculty, staff, former students and members of the community expressed their outrage over the speaker’s previously expressed views and have roundly condemned everything for which he seems to stand,” the school’s president, Michael K. Young, said in a statement. “I strongly agree with those sentiments. I find the views of the organizer—and the speaker he is apparently sponsoring—abhorrent and profoundly antithetical to everything I believe. In my judgment, those views simply have no place in civilized dialogue and conversation.”
Jennifer Mercieca, a political communications professor at Texas A&M, says the school is doing the right thing by not banning Spencer, and students who oppose his message should respond with their own point of view. “You combat bad speech with more speech,” Mercieca said. “It’s better to have more ideas circulate than fewer ideas, but the concern is certainly understandable. [Free speech] ought to be protected, not at all costs, but at most costs.”
Spencer most recently held an alt-right gathering in Washington, D.C., where he attacked Jews and even quoted Nazi propaganda. The gathering, although only attended by 200 people, was covered by the leading news networks and put the spotlight on the leader of the white supremacist group.