Robert Spencer’s impending visit is causing major tension across UB’s campus.
Spencer, a controversial self-proclaimed radical Islam expert, will speak about the dangers of radical Islam in Knox 109 on May 1. Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) is hosting Spencer’s visit. Chairwoman Lynn Sementilli defended this decision saying public universities are the place for free speech and discussion, even for the most difficult topics.
But UB students and faculty feel Spencer’s visit brings hate speech, bigotry and discrimination to a campus with a large international population.
Students and faculty started a petition, which received over 1000 signatures, asking Student Association members to “rescind their explicit sponsorship” and remove the SA logo from all flyers and advertisements for the event.
The Spectrum also received two letters to the editor where students and faculty expressed concern about the threat Spencer’s visit may bring to the university.
Muslim Student Association (MSA) plan to have an “anti-Robert Spencer” sit-in in Knox Hall during his speech to protest against his visit.
When MSA members discovered Spencer was coming to the university, they planned to take action against the visit, which they felt was threatening to UB’s Muslim community.
“There came a moment when the news first broke about Robert Spencer coming to campus that we all realized, collectively that this was a point where we could either remain silent bystanders, or become part of the discourse on a topic regarding Muslims, which had no representation of Muslims,” said MSA president Samiha Islam.
Islam started organizing the sit-in and said the idea resonated with people who understood that Spencer’s visit demonized their religion and attacked their civil liberties. She said the sit-in also resonated with several other clubs who were willing to stand with Muslims in support.
Islam said someone covering their face with a black hood ran up to a member of MSA in the Silverman Library and threw flyers advertising Spencer’s visit in the student’s face then ran away.
“Words may seem harmless until they transform to hate crimes,” Islam said. “[This] shows that his rhetoric emboldens people to action. Actions that banned him from the U.K., actions that have designated groups he is part of as hate groups. And actions that our campus loudly, and proudly will sit in and denounce,” Islam said.
MSA will have flyers at the sit-in “showing who Robert Spencer is,” and tables showing what Islam stands for, Islam said. They plan to speak with students and ask Muslims about their experiences.
“We've encouraged people to wear traditional clothes too, whatever that means to them - because we believe in a multicultural America, not a whitewashed society where culturally different food is the only acceptable diversity,” Islam said. “[We want] an America which sees the myriad of individuals and their collective backgrounds, attire, languages and traditions as valuable assets to the community to celebrate, not fear.”
Spencer’s visit raises questions about the nature of free speech on college campuses.
UC Berkley has recently experienced highly volatile student protests against controversial guest speakers.
Ann Coulter canceled her speech at UC Berkeley last week after losing sponsorship from Young America’s Foundation, who said it could not jeopardize the safety of students and faculty. The university initially rescheduled her visit because of threats of violence on campus.
UC Berkeley also canceled conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos’ visit after violent protests erupted on campus.
University Police officers will be present at Spencer’s address but UB spokesperson John Della Contrada said the university could not disclose how many officers will be in attendance.
Ashley Inkumsah is the co-senior news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org