Manggala: UO needs to address that white nationalists were on campus

On April 20, self-proclaimed “white nationalists” came to visit the University of Oregon. They rode in on a truck with a swastika on the bed and parked in front of the EMU preaching white supremacy on Hitler’s birthday.

It’s 2017, and we still have to confront the party that murdered 6 million plus Jewish people over 70 years ago. But Neo-Nazis have always existed since then, so the idea of battling skinheads about what is morally right isn’t exactly new.

The problem is, why didn’t the University of Oregon administration do anything about it?

Nazis were on campus for over an hour, but they eventually left thanks to the powerful counter-protest of the UO student body. The demonstration could have been stopped if campus officials took action. Instead, campus police stood and monitored the situation.

Students attached another sign to the one held by a white nationalist. (Levi Gittleman/Emerald)

If the UO had taken action against the white supremacists, there might have been backlash not just from the Nazis, but others who are concerned with free speech rights. And knowing UO’s infamous track record with free speech rights, there might have been a good reason not to intervene.

But here’s the question: how free should free speech be?

Universities are public institutions where citizens can protest and rally about almost anything if they do it peacefully in certain areas. But if the University of Oregon claims itself a safe campus that promotes diversity and respects different cultures, then they shouldn’t tolerate white supremacy rallies on its campus.

The UO diversity mission statement describes the university community as a place of “acceptance of true diversity as an affirmation of an individual identity within a welcoming community,” but if somebody’s individual identity is based off a party of genocide, then do they still get the welcome treatment?

Fortunately, UO students didn’t think so. The two white supremacists were met with about 100 students who gleefully protested the ridiculousness of the demonstration. The Nazis also encountered Rabbi Jack Melul, who joyously sang The Jewish People Are Still Alive in Hebrew.

UO administration did not comment on the incident, neither condoning or denouncing the Nazis. To many minorities, this is deeply troubling. The UO administration has notified its students and faculty in the past when there have been concerns on campus, such as Nancy Shurtz and the blackface incident, which was held in a private residence. But a week has gone by and no outreach has been made yet.

The UO administration’s decision to stay silent on the incident seems like they didn’t believe that it was a big deal at all, but when your students are afraid to go on campus knowing that possible Nazis are in the area, then it should become a primary concern for the administration. Some sort of action should be made, whether it is an email or a statement, to assure students that UO does not believe in hate speech.

The city of Eugene made it clear that it was against these actions. Dozens of protesters arrived at the Nazis’ home in Springfield on Monday night. The two groups exchanged volatile words towards each other, but no arrests were made. Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis commented on the situation to KATU news.

“This should be a community where everyone feels safe, where hate crimes are not acceptable,” said Mayor Vinis. The city’s support for minorities is much needed, but to UO students, we need the same affirmation from the administration.

Margaret Butler is a senior political science major and a prominent member of Oregon Hillel, UO’s community center for Jewish students. Butler believes that a sort of affirmation would have shown necessary support for the Jewish community, just how other identities receive support.

“We want to be affirmed that our identity is welcomed just like any other,” Butler said. “And giving that support would empower students to feel strong about their community.”

Butler was also concerned with how this would nationally affect the welcoming of Jewish students to UO.

“When that type of anti-semitism isn’t shut down, it makes it more difficult to bring in Jewish students because they don’t want to associate with this campus,” Butler said. “Free speech is a constitutional right, but feeling safe is a human right and we should prioritize that for students.”

The presence of Nazis on what is supposed to be a campus of diversity is sheer disrespect to everybody, but especially to anybody who is Jewish or a person of color. These people legitimately believe that I, as well as many others, am an inferior being solely based on the color of my skin. Nobody should be able to look at my skin and conclude that I am a lesser human. If the University of Oregon prides itself on its diversity and culture, then it shouldn’t tolerate a movement that aims to destroy this notion.

If a coalition recognized themselves as ISIS, and rallied on campus about how Islam is the right religion and if you don’t believe in it then you are wrong, then those people would be considered terrorists and the university would probably have a call to action. But if Aryan skinheads show up in a swastika painted truck exclaiming that whites are better, that’s suddenly okay?

According to ACLU, hate speech is technically protected under First Amendment rights. But, it is also a free speech right to do a counter-demonstration. So, although we didn’t infringe on anybody’s free speech rights, UO students and faculty did manage to drive the Nazis away, which is how hate rallies should be addressed.

But if UO truly wants to be a cohesive school that cares for the safety of its students, it would do something about the fact that the party of Hitler was on its supposed multi-cultural campus.

Follow Billy on Twitter @billymanggalol

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Billy Manggala

Billy Manggala

Senior Editor of the Opinion Desk, Cat father, Grilled Cheese enthusiast