Students, professors tread line between condemnation, free speech
By Justin Sweitzer
Following the emergence of posters promoting the alt-right organization Identity Evropa, members of the KU campus community shared varying thoughts on how the situation should be handled, with prominent leaders asking students to be respectful of rights to free speech while encouraging an inclusive environment for KU students.
In a statement addressing the posters, KU President Kenneth Hawkinson stressed that all students have a right to free speech, but that the university will not support discriminatory language or practices on campus. KU Student Government Board President Molly Gallagher echoed Hawkinson’s sentiments, offering herself as a resource to concerned students.
“As your Student Body President, I want to extend myself as a resource for you to approach with concerns. Our student body should continue to respect one another and support our diversity,” said Gallagher in a Feb. 8 statement to students. “I want to ensure that we maintain a positive campus climate; we all play a role in achieving that.”
While the organization has been accused of holding white nationalist beliefs, the fact that the posters did not outwardly express discriminatory or hateful language left the university with their hands tied as to what actions could be taken. Due to the absence of such language, Identity Evropa was afforded the same rights as any other campus organization to share their beliefs.
Kaleigh Cunningham, president of the KU chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, said that while she disagrees with the Identity Evropa’s ideological stances, the group has the right to express them on campus.
“While the posters placed around campus last week are hurtful and immoral, it is that group’s right to voice their opinion. We cannot stop hateful people from existing, but what we can do is challenge their ideas with that of our own,” said Cunningham.
“Freedom of speech allows for the sharing and competition of ideas and creating a space where hateful speech is not allowed, creates a breeding ground for it outside of that area. In order for one to combat these ideas, we must know of their existence.”
Some, however, did not share Cunningham’s beliefs, as many students took down the posters shortly after their emergence. Some professors even offered extra credit to students who took the posters down.
Communication design professor Vicki Meloney offered extra points to students who transformed the posters into an “anti-hate piece of artwork or typographic message,” such as a collage or origami, according to a Facebook post from KU communication design professor Karen Kresge.
In retaliation, some replaced Identity Evropa’s handiwork with posters of their own, as some bulletin boards across campus featured posters sporting the slogan, “Good Night Alt Right,” proclaiming a rejection of bigotry and racism.
Activists on campus, however, believe the best course of action is to make use of campus resources and organize in an effort to continue to foster diversity at KU.
“It was deeply troubling that our campus was targeted in particular. However, the students from our marginalized communities have stood strongly against bigotry, prejudice and hate,” said Nykolai Blichar, KU student trustee and diversity council co-chair.
“I believe the next course of action for students is to stay engaged on campus by being involved with groups like Diversity Council and our many diversity-related organizations.”
Blichar stressed that it’s important that the university commits to creating a campus climate generated around diversity and inclusion.
Kevin Mahoney, a professor of English at KU and founder of the left-leaning blog Raging Chicken Press, offered a similar
assessment when discussing the situation saying that it’s more important to strengthen campus bonds than to go after a particular group.
“Why don’t we think about creating the community that we want to let each other know that we have each other’s backs,” Mahoney said.