Dear President Leath and Provost Hardgrave,
We, the undersigned faculty and staff, are writing to express our dismay at an event sponsored by the Honors College on the evening of Monday, February 26. We understand that a representative of the Auburn White Student Union was invited to attend and engage in dialogue with students before a screening of the documentary Skinhead, U.S.A.
The WSU representative did not
We are in favor of allowing free speech and a diversity of perspectives on Auburn's campus, and we encourage people from different sides of controversial issues to engage in dialogue and face tough questions.
"But there is a difference between allowing free speech and sponsoring a hate group..."
But there is a difference between allowing free speech and sponsoring a hate group, which is what the Auburn White Student Union has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This group operates in the shadows.
Providing them a platform to hold a public discussion on campus gives them legitimacy and indicates that the University administration considers their beliefs just one of many legitimate different opinions on issues of race.
As the Wednesday, February 28 Plainsman article noted, the Auburn WSU is the only one nationwide which is still using a university name. They already appear to outsiders to be a student group, and giving them a platform only furthers that perception.
"They already appear to outsiders to be a student group, and giving them a platform only furthers that perception."
Beyond implicitly sanctioning a hate group, inviting them to speak alongside groups such as the Black Student Union creates a false equivalence. One of the key goals of any university is to teach students the critical thinking skills necessary to see such false equivalences and understand their danger.
Treating the WSU like any other student group, therefore, cuts to the core of the university’s mission by undermining the kind of critical thinking we aspire to teach our students.
We raise these concerns because we believe the first responsibility of the university must be to provide an intellectually rigorous space that is welcoming and safe for all students and employees.
Beyond ensuring that the WSU is never again given an official university platform, we urge you, as the leaders of Auburn University, to personally reach out to the Black Student Union, Hillel, the Muslim Student Association, and other groups which have been targets of intimidation by the WSU in the past. Private, anonymous BERT investigations are not enough. There needs to be a public statement that the ideology promoted by the WSU has no home at Auburn and actions to support that statement.
Stephanie Shepherd, Geosciences
Melissa Estes Blair, History
Kelly Kennington, History
Editor's note: The above letter was Auburn President Steven Leath and Provost Bill Hardgrave. An original copy of the letter sent to both officials and reviewed by The Plainsman was signed by more than 60 faculty members, students and staff from across campus.