To the editor,
I am writing to express my disappointment in the letter to the editor titled “Administration should make clear Auburn is no home for hate.” While I cannot stress enough how unsympathetic I am to the mission of the Auburn White Student Union, I believe the letter’s authors take the wrong approach in condemning the Honors College for allowing a WSU member to speak at an Honors College event.
One of the guiding principles of American democracy and our institutions of higher learning is the free exchange of ideas, even those ideas that make us uncomfortable. We lack the capacity to engage with those with whom we disagree without this freedom. Without the ability to engage in a discussion, there is little hope of understanding or growth from anyone.
Alternative-right members already hold the misguided view they are oppressed by the media, academia and other powerful sectors of society. Barring them from speaking not only reinforces this view but, in a small way, validates it.
The letter’s authors believe allowing a WSU member to speak at Auburn provides a sense of legitimacy to the organization. This places the university in an impossible position where it has to evaluate whether the opinions of every person who speaks on campus conform to the current social climate. Were this even possible for an organization the size of Auburn, the idea that the Auburn administration should decide what views are or are not appropriate smacks of paternalism.
The letter’s authors also believe those in attendance may somehow conflate the views of the Black Student Union and the White Student Union. The Black Student Union is an organization in good standing with the university and provides numerous social and educational events to students throughout the year, adding a great deal to Auburn’s collegial environment.
The White Student Union is an organization unaffiliated with the university and is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. To believe some of our most intellectually-gifted students believe these two organizations represent the same ideals, differing only by their races, is to give these students an incredibly small amount of credit.
The Plainsman reported on a representative from the SPLC who came to campus in September to promote a guide developed by the SPLC about how to handle the alternative right presence on campus.
A passage from that guide reads, “(P)eople have the right to express their views, even if those views are loathsome. No matter how repugnant one may find a speaker’s views, as long as the college has a policy of allowing student groups to invite people from outside their campus to speak, university administrators cannot pick and choose based on the views the speaker holds.”
Auburn University would be wise to heed this advice in the future as well as many of the suggestions the SPLC guide offers in dealing with an alternative-right presence on campus.
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Brandon Fincher graduated from Auburn in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. He is currently pursuing a PhD in public administration and public policy.