Recent events on the University of Virginia Campus in Charlottesville illustrated the divide that is happening in our country. White Supremacists marched across the campus shouting racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic chants. This group was met with many individuals who were protesting the White Supremacists’ march. The campus was under siege; the result was violence and a death.
I was not there so it is not my place to critique the administration’s handling of the event. However, this event must put on the radar of every college administration the potential for such hateful speech, threatening marches, and violence on any campus. We are having these discussions at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
While it may be hard to understand, there is a growing movement, although still a fringe movement, in the United States to create a White, male dominated, heterosexual, Christian country. We have seen such movements in our past. They are led by hateful, bigoted people and they usually don’t end well.
Let’s start with White Supremacy is wrong and ignorant. As a free society that values human rights we cannot allow this movement to gain any traction. We must not allow such hateful speech and deeds to go unchallenged. However, we must also struggle to protect the right of free speech.
For colleges there are three immediate issues that come to mind. First, do you allow such speech or marches on your campus? In higher education we must value free speech – even when we don’t agree with it. However, it is the responsibility of the college administration to keep the peace on campus; proper precautions must be taken.
Second, how should a college react when an employee (administrator, faculty or staff) or student makes such remarks, particularly in social media? Some college employees (both faculty and staff) have lost their jobs for such postings on social media; some students have been expelled. The argument seems to be that these hateful statements reflect poorly on the institution and can damage its reputation and ability to attract students. This seems like a slippery slope, however, colleges must enhance their efforts to demonstrate that campuses are open to all and that all people and ideas will be protected on them.
Lastly, White Supremacy is spread through ignorance. Clearly one of the chief deterrents for such hateful beliefs is education. It is the responsibly of colleges and universities to educate students and communities on issues of race, religion, socioeconomic standing, sexual preference and a myriad of other traits and characteristics that make the United States the diverse and inclusive society it is (or should be). Only through education and understanding can we defeat such hatred.
There are some out there that will say, “You’re just one of those educated liberals who are destroying our country.” To that I say, “Liberal? Depends on the topic.” Liberal is not a dirty word to me. However, this alternative is an ugly and hateful country; and we must not allow it to foster and spread.
In closing I’ll remind people of a few lines from a play (I won’t quote it well, but you’ll get the idea). When they came for the Blacks, I didn’t say anything —I’m not black. When they came for the Jews, I didn’t protest —I’m not Jewish. When they came for the Gays — I didn’t care. When they came for me — there was no one left to fight. Hate is hate and it must be stopped.
Dustin Swanger is president of FMCC.