UConn students respond to alt-right speech on campus

Dec. 2017 UConn studentsBy UCONN YOUTH FOR SOCIALIST ACTION

On Dec. 1, University of Connecticut (UConn) students organized a march and rally in response to their perception of the university administration’s inadequate action in relation to a white nationalist speaker on campus four days earlier. That night, Nov. 28, the UConn College Republicans hosted alt-right spokesperson Lucian Wintrich. Around 150 students, faculty members, and people from as far as Massachusetts showed up to protest the event.

Wintrich was drowned out with chants such as “Go home, Nazi” for most of his hour-long talk, followed by a collective walk-out by the protesters. During the walk-out, a woman grabbed Winthrop’s speech, after which he assaulted her, grabbing her from behind. In her words, “He went for my face.”

That is the context in which the “March for Action” happened. The march was attended by around 200 students. The demands made by the organizers and their supporters were focused on having the administration strengthen their policies on hate speech and to discipline the College Republicans. However, UConn’s Youth for Socialist Action (YSA) chapter believes that these demands, if implemented, would increase the repressive abilities of the administration.

In the days since Wintrich’s speech, the UConn administration, including President Herbst, have been calling one-on-one meetings with faculty activists.

Following are major excerpts from the speech by the UConn YSA president, Evan, that he presented at the Dec. 1 rally.

I am here to talk about how to maintain mobilization following the event on Tuesday [Nov. 28] and the obvious energies that are showing themselves now. …

The administration already has the power to silence people, and it does. Excellent scholars have been ostracized at this university for supporting Palestinian liberation, the cultural studies programs are always hanging on by a thread, and they have been stalling on having a real curriculum on Native American history for decades.

Our strategy cannot be to force the university to protect us; they are neither willing nor capable to do so. It would do good to remember what they did in response to the big Title IX violations and severely racist attacks a couple of years ago. They didn’t do anything to affect the material conditions of racism or misogyny on campus, they didn’t substantially increase community education efforts.The administration, to cover its own ass, increased the size of the administration. The expansion of administrative authority immediately marginalized the cultural centers. We cannot appeal to administration—we must protect ourselves.

The very last thing the administration needs is to have more power to silence people. All over the country, university administrations are using their power to stamp out the left and the groups of oppressed people. As far as I know, no professor has ever been arrested for white supremacist ideas with the support of their university. On the other hand, professors are arrested and disciplined for supporting Palestine all of the time.

At CCSU, the students demanded the campus newspaper make new rules for censoring out hate speech. Those rules were then used to kick an editor off the paper for being a socialist, for writing about antiwar and anti racist activities, for belonging to the YSA.

I am forced to think of George Cicariello-Maher, a professor at Drexel and a leading scholar on Venezuela, recently put on academic leave due to right-wing pressure. Or Johnny Eric Williams, a Trinity professor who recently wrote a book on the racist ideology permeating modern genetic science, and was put on leave for a supposed “racist” post against white people on social media. Or even Linda Sarsour, who is regularly accused of anti-Semitism for her vocal support for Palestinian liberation.

If we ask for the university to punish organizations for bringing in speakers who use hate-speech, what will we say when the right comes after us for inviting someone who calls for Black reparations or real self-determination for Palestine? We should not forget that Malcolm X was labeled by many as a Black fascist.

So if we cannot appeal to the administration, what are we to do? We need are our own organizations. Who has the most protection on this campus? Tenured professors. Why is that? Because they have the AAUP! Just like professors need to be organized, just like workers need to be organized, students need our own organizations so we can defend ourselves against white supremacy, misogyny, transphobia, etc.

Two of the biggest difficulties with student organizing are the self-enclosure of the campus and the quick turn-over of activists and organizers. Both of these problems are solved with having as big of a general organization of students as possible.

There were nearly 300 people protesting Lucian on Tuesday. Imagine 300 students as intimately involved and committed activists working around the state. We could easily organize contingents of hundreds of people to go to immigrant court hearings and show the state we will not stand for more deportations.

When a student group decides to bring a racist, misogynist, piece of trash speaker to campus, we can make them explain themselves—not to an external group like the school administration, but to us. When Sodexo inevitably tries to bust up the cafeteria workers’ union here, the workers will need our help in fighting for a livable contract. We can help in any strike efforts or actions. We can spread pro-union propaganda. This could even be the basis for student workers to unionize.

What we should do going forward is to form united fronts of student groups. To maintain momentum and independence, we can stand together against racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and all forms of oppression.

The YSA will fight with you for united fronts that can mobilize, not 300, but 3000 and more for equity and justice. All of us must stay in constant dialogue, with the intention to hold big conferences before events like this one so students can collectively debate and discuss in person exactly what we are trying to accomplish. …

We can mold ourselves to build unity in fighting to demolish the arguments of the alt-right in big teach-ins, where we put forward the perspectives of oppressed people, rather than organizing to give the university more repressive power.

Thank you for coming out and hearing me through. We will build, we will fight, and we will win.

Photo: Mark Mirko / Hartford Courant