UPDATED: White nationalist speaker sparks controversy

UPDATED: White nationalist speaker sparks controversy

CW File

UPDATE (12:00 p.m. 4/16/2018): According to an emailed statement from Chris Bryant, assistant director of media relations for the University, SFAF has been unable to replace a full-time UA faculty staff or advisor, meaning it no longer meets all of the requirements for a student organization. 

"If its status changes in the future, the group will be given the opportunity to re-register, gaining the privileges of registered student organizations, including the ability to host events and speakers in campus facilities," Bryant said. 

UPDATE (10:22 a.m. 4/16/2018): The New Century Foundation, the organization that publishes American Renaissance, said Jared Taylor's event has been postponed indefinitely. Members of SFAF couldn't be reached for comment. 

Jared Taylor’s views reflect an America largely left behind – an America where equality wasn’t strived for and diversity wasn’t celebrated.

He feels victimized not by the subjugation of his people but of his ideas: ideas that advocate for separation of races, espouse genetic differences in intelligence and place some human beings over others.

Taylor was invited to speak at The University of Alabama on April 19 in the Russell Hall auditorium by the political group Students for America First. The title of his lecture is “Diversity: Is it Good For America?” 

Taylor said he plans to answer that question with a resounding “no.”

“The title of the talk is whether diversity is a good thing for the United States, and I will answer that question in the negative, because diversity is invariably a source of tension and conflict, at least diversity of the kind we are celebrating in the United States – that is to say, diversity of language, ethnicity, race, culture, etc.,” Taylor said.

Jared Taylor: The man and the message

A popular figure in the far-right community, Taylor is the editor of American Renaissance, an online publication Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled as white nationalist. But Taylor does not ascribe that label to himself or his views. Instead, Taylor describes himself as a “race realist.”  

Taylor said a race realist is someone who believes the races are inherently different and, despite regular overlap, are not interchangeable.

Taylor has often expressed his racist beliefs through American Renaissance. 

“Blacks and whites are different,” he said. “When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization – any kind of civilization – disappears.”

Right-wing figures like Taylor have gained national attention in recent years for speeches on college campuses. Some of the divisive guests who have made headlines include Milo Yiannopoulos, former senior editor of Breitbart News who came to speak at the University in 2017, and Richard Spencer, a well-known white nationalist who spoke at Auburn University last year after a federal court First Amendment victory forced the university to host Spencer on campus. 

George Hawley, an assistant professor in the department of political science and scholar of right-wing politics in America, said the steady stream of speakers on college campuses has been one of the main tools far-right ideologues have used to get their message out. 

“One of the reasons that college campuses are useful for them is because, as public entities – assuming that they are public universities – different groups have free speech rights, so the First Amendment applies in a way that it doesn't at, say, private hotels or that sort of thing,” Hawley said. 

However, Hawley said such speaking events may be becoming less popular, citing Spencer’s cancellation of his college tour after an event at Michigan State sparked violence and drew a crowd of only a few dozen.

Will Nevin, an adjunct instructor of journalism in the College of Communication and Information Sciences and a media law scholar, said a rule preventing Jared Taylor from coming to campus would enable the University to prevent anyone – regardless of their views –  from coming to campus. 

“Jared Taylor is coming to campus because the First Amendment does not allow the University, or any public university, to pick winners and losers of speech,” Nevin said.

Students For America First:

A relatively new political organization on campus, Students for America First (SFAF) was formed and registered with The Source last academic year. 

SFAF did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story, however a press statement was posted on its official Twitter account soon after the Taylor event was announced. 

The statement stressed the importance of allowing for free speech on college campuses, emphasizing that all views should have equal representation in public discourse – including views that are controversial or unpalatable to the general public. 

“SFAF neither endorses nor condemns Mr. Taylor’s work: our sole motivation in deciding to host him is to ensure that all social and political views, regardless of how offensive they may appear to the general public, are accounted for in the free marketplace of ideas that ought to exist on the university campus,” the statement reads in part.

However, a subsection of the organization’s constitution contradicts the language in the press release. SFAF’s official constitution listed on the Source as of March 30 states that one of the purposes of the organization is to “sponsor speakers that are aligned with the general purpose of this association to bring their message to campus.” 

Bruce Barrett, an associate professor of statistics in the Culverhouse College of Commerce, was SFAF’s original faculty advisor. Barrett resigned his advising position at the end of March, a move that was announced via a tweet from the official SFAF Twitter account. 

The tweet read in part that Barrett was “not fully informed of Jared Taylor’s polarizing statements on race and identity.”

Barrett provided a statement regarding his resignation to The Crimson White. 

“As a Follower of Christ, and with the privilege of representing the University of Alabama, I cannot lend my support or even acquiescence to the advancement of ideas that expand racial divisions,” Barrett said. He has asked readers to view the statement in its entirety. It is available at the end of this story. 

Some members of SFAF’s executive board have also resigned their positions, including Andrew Williams who resigned from his role as president Sunday. Williams wasn't available for comment at the time of publication.

The University reacts:

Members of the UA community were swift to express anger and frustration regarding Taylor’s upcoming visit. The flyer advertising Taylor’s speech was widely shared on social media, and some posts were accompanied by impassioned captions speaking out against Taylor’s views and upcoming visit.

Austin Schutz, a graduate teaching assistant in the department of political science, wrote one such Facebook post. It was shared and reposted across social media, especially within the progressive community on campus. The post warned students about the event, and Schutz indicated his disappointment in the University for allowing someone with Taylor’s views to come speak. 

“The campus environment at University of Alabama is toxic – and as long as students continue to hold views like that of Students for America First – it always will be,” Schutz said in the post. 

In an email Schutz sent to The Crimson White, he detailed a meeting he had with Steven Hood, associate vice president for student affairs. Schutz said, “[the University administration’s] main concern will be the safety of students during the talk, and they believe the ideal situation is one in which students do not attend, or attend counter events.”

Some progressive groups like the Black Student Union, Crossroads and Spectrum are working together to hold a number of counter-events focused on celebrating diversity.

Amber Scales, a junior majoring in public relations and theatre and director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Student Government Association, said counter-events are the best way to show opposition to figures like Taylor because they often come seeking spectacle and attention. 

“You don't want to give that person the time of day; you don’t want to show up and let them make the counter-argument that these people are so snowflake that they won’t even let us have this conversation,” Scales said. “So if their whole thing is free speech, fine, have that speech, but that speech should be to the lowest number of people possible.” 

Shortly after SFAF publicized the Taylor event, University of Alabama President Stuart R. Bell sent a campus-wide email addressing the issue. The email encouraged students to refrain from attending the event, as well as explained the University’s legal obligation to allow Taylor on campus. 

“As a public university, the law and our commitment to free speech do not allow us to refuse a speaker based on the content of speech,” Bell said in the statement. “This speaker was invited by a registered student organization that followed appropriate policies and processes. The best way to demonstrate distaste for hateful dialogue is not to give it an audience.”

The University administration declined to comment further on the matter, directing any request for a statement back to Bell’s email. 

Bell’s email echoed the recent messages about Harley Barber and another student who left the University following racist videos. The style of top-down communication to the campus community in response to racially charged events has been criticized by students with views like Schutz. 

Some in the campus community such as Scales see the Harley Barber video and Taylor’s upcoming speech as simply a continuation – perhaps even a culmination –  of The University of Alabama’s long and sordid history of racism. 

“The Harley Barber incident is – that’s not a starting point; that’s an eruption,” Scales said. “When you have buildings named after eugenicists, Ku Klux Klan dragons and white supremacists, it’s not then odd that there are students who come here with those same views, because if our history isn’t being addressed … we can’t then expect students to understand everything it means to attend The University of Alabama.”

This University has reckoned with racism in the past, and it’s reckoning with it now. Taylor is but the latest manifestation of The University of Alabama’s history, and it’s up to the students to decide how it’s addressed.



Bruce Barrett's full statement:

Like many of you, I learned Thursday evening of last week, of the plans of one of our student organizations to host a speaker whose views on racial segregation are both hurtful and highly divisive. Unlike you though, I was the Faculty Advisor for this group. As Faculty Advisor, I did not attend meetings, suggest projects, or recommend speakers. I reviewed the financial transactions and made myself available to answer questions and facilitate interactions with the Office of Student Involvement. I did, however, expect to be kept informed, of any changes in leadership, direction, or planned activities by the group. Unfortunately, a lack of candid communication led to the current situation where I became aware of the speaker's invitation, made several weeks prior, only when it was announced to the larger UA community. A quick review of the speaker's writings, and I was heartsick at the prospect of his speaking and that my name had been mingled, without my knowledge or consent, with views that are repellent to me. And so, that same evening, I informed the student group leadership of my intention to withdraw as Faculty Advisor, which I did the following day. A University should be a place where a variety of issues and perspectives can be discussed, even passionately, but always with civility and respect. And I am concerned at recent national trends aimed at restricting speakers to narrow boundaries. But for me personally, this was a bridge too far. As a Follower of Christ, and with the privilege of representing the University of Alabama, I cannot lend my support or even acquiescence to the advancement of ideas that expand racial divisions. And so, to my valued colleagues, and to my cherished students, past and present, I deeply regret if any failure on my part to sooner ascertain the nature, or even the existence, of this event, has created the false impression that I support the speaker’s views or that I played any role in his invitation.

Bruce Barrett

Associate Professor of Statistics

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