Last Monday, Auburn’s Honors College invited the White Student Union to speak and explain its platform at a screening of a movie about white nationalists.
By doing so, they effectively validated the organization and their abhorrent views.
In an attempt to explain themselves, the Honors College said they planned to invite representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement to a later event, drawing a false equivalence between a white nationalist organization and a movement intended to protect the rights of an underserved minority.
The Honor College’s actions can be seen as likening the ideals and philosophy of the White Student Union to black advocacy groups operating in Auburn, thus forwarding a commonly held falsehood that the White Student Union has as much a right to form and operate as the Black Student Union.
Unequivocally, they do not.
The White Student Union is, of course, a hate group that shares no footing or similarities with the Black Student Union other than in branding. They operate without University sanction and have in the past wrongly used Auburn’s symbols to mimic a recognized group.
They preach a separation between white people and other races, blame violent acts on “interracial violence” of black people against white people and push anti-Semitic conspiracy theories through literature left throughout campus. For these actions and these beliefs, the SPLC has labeled them a hate group.
Furthermore, there is no need for the White Student Union to exist as an equivalent organization to the Black Student Union. Only 6 percent of undergraduate Auburn students are black compared to 79 percent who are white. This underrepresentation warrants an organization that provides a safe space and a platform for their voice. White students’ supermajority on campus needs no interest group or lobbyist.
The Black Student Union was founded and operates as an organization that represents the interests of black students at Auburn. It provides a safe space for black students to voice concerns relating to the black community at Auburn and works to discourage instances of racism, both institutional and individual.
These goals are reflective of the basic values of Auburn University as well as basic American values. The Black Student Union works to make sure these goals actualize in the campus community.
While there is a definite academic and societal justification for attempting to understand the mindsets and motivations of white separatists, we should look elsewhere for such insight.
Dozens of academic articles have been written on the subject and an entire group of formerly radicalized far-right extremists, Life After Hate, exists solely to educate folks on the topic and counter such hate groups.
Even worse, the president of the White Student Union was invited to speak in person at the movie screening but instead opted to join via Skype, blocking his video feed to mask his identity.
Along with their racism and xenophobia, the members of the White Student Union are cowards operating with a delusion of significance.
As journalists, we believe wholeheartedly in the First Amendment. The White Student Union has a right to speak. They shouldn’t face reprimand for sharing their views, no matter how awful. The marketplace of ideas will eventually obliterate their misguided views.
But there is a difference in allowing them to speak without punishment and inviting them to campus events — an invitation that lends some authority and credence to their existence and their views.
Auburn has spent the last year working to further free speech by hosting Critical Conversations, a speaker series that focuses on difficult conversations with speakers of varying political ideologies and personal views. These speakers are educated on such topics and able to further civil conversation. The University has dedicated resources to allow these conversations to take place.
Giving the White Student Union a platform at a campus event completely undermines this effort. Their views are not educated, enlightened or even remotely based in fact. Instead, they are built on pseudoscience and hate speech and have no root in logic or reason.
This should not be seen as a liberal stance against a conservative group. For starters, the White Student Union is not a conservative group. Further, all Auburn students should be united against white supremacy and anti-Semitism, regardless of their political stance.
Auburn University has made efforts to discredit the White Student Union since its outset and has worked to encourage intellectual conversations about difficult social issues. With one event, the Honors College undermined this cause.
We hope this mistake won’t be repeated.