They’re handing out “Gators not haters” T-shirts and taking selfies with them. They’re creating hashtags and videos and posters. They’re marching and shouting through bullhorns. And they’re asking for classes to be canceled Thursday, when a white nationalist is set to speak on campus.
Richard Spencer, who led a torchlight march through the University of Virginia in Charlottesville on a weekend that turned increasingly violent as white supremacists clashed with counterprotesters, is scheduled to give a speech at the University of Florida on Thursday. Police are gathering on the Gainesville campus, and students are leading protest efforts on multiple fronts.
Some are trying to drown out the message of his National Policy Institute with their words, some are demanding that he not be allowed to speak, and some are planning to avoid the campus entirely.
On Tuesday night, students filled a student government meeting, with 50 waiting outside, to demand that classes be canceled Thursday.
School officials have given permission for student and employee absences to be excused Thursday, but classes are continuing.
The school is giving Spencer the right to speak, said Ardyst Zigler, a senior from Orlando. “But I think the safety and well-being of students should come before anything else,” she said.
Their next mission, Zigler said, is to pass on the message so that other universities at which Spencer plans to speak are aware of the options and other protests, she said, “so there’s a network of students who have each others’ backs.”
No Nazis at UF issued a “call to action” urging people to gather at noon Thursday at the performing arts center.
More than 3,500 people had signed an online petition to be delivered to the university’s president, calling the decision to allow Spencer to speak on campus abhorrent and unacceptable.
“This event is an opportunity for the ‘alt-right’, neo-Nazis, and active Ku Klux Klan in Florida to rally on campus and intimidate students as well as Gainesville residents,” the protesters wrote. “This decision is not just about free speech; it is about student safety.”
On Monday, people shouted “Not in our town, not in our state! We won’t have your Nazi hate!” as they marched to the university administration building, seeking to talk to the president. (And then, as they waited outside, they chanted, “You’ll talk to Nazis but not to students?”)
University officials announced that student leaders would host a virtual assembly at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, while Spencer’s event is taking place. The videos and performances are meant to get people talking about diversity on campus and bring the community together. They will also raise money to help students in need.
“We want to recognize that individuals can disagree and still maintain the same respect and understanding for one another,” said Ianne Itchon, a student leader helping to plan the campaign. “We are seeking to rally students against hate and all its forms and to provide platforms for community action and education.”