Faculty panel leads discussion on white supremacy on campus

Charles Rankin

Four Washburn faculty members organized a discussion April 25 in the Rita Blitt Art Gallery, in the aftermath of a white supremacist group placing posters in areas around campus two weeks ago.

Bruce Mactavish, history professor, opened the discussion with a talk about the history of white supremacy in America and the things we can do to combat it. Chris Hamilton, political science professor, spoke about the current state of white supremacy and extremism in the politics of the United States. Janet Jackson, law professor, spoke about the First Amendment and the limitations of free speech, particularly on college campuses. Finally, Chris Jones, religious studies professor, spoke about the anti-Semitic nature of white supremacy.

The flyers were apparently posted in the dead of night, around 2 a.m. Because of this, all the professors noted the cowardice of the people who hung them.

After the professors gave their opening remarks, the panel opened the floor to questions from the audience.

One member of the audience asked the panel the best way to maintain free speech when there are potentially dangerous ideas being shared, but also keeping young people informed, mentioning a poll that showed the dwindling knowledge of the Holocaust among millennials.

Jackson gave one way to combat bad and misinformation.

“[You should] be as loud as the people,” Jackson said. “So many times, the offensive speech is very loud and gets a platform, gets retweeted [or] gets posted in lots of different places. The protest against [the hateful speech] and the truth needs to be just as loud.”

The question on the minds of many students was why the university administration did not make a statement about the posters, especially when underprivileged groups of students feel somewhat threatened.

According to Danielle Dempsey-Swopes, director of university diversity and inclusion, the administration did not make the decision hastily.

“Out administration got together [and] looked at how other universities had responded,” Dempsey-Swopes said.

The administration noticed that when other schools responded to such situations “forcefully,” the group that posted the fliers used the opportunity and publicity to bring in more posters and fliers and have more interaction with the students.

“Our administrators felt that we don’t want more of this, we don’t want more interaction from them,” Dempsey-Swopes said.

Mactavish feels that in this situation the best response shouldn’t come from the administration.

“I think this is wonderful time and opportunity where, frankly, we don’t need Morgan Hall,” Mactavish said. “Let’s handle this ourselves, individually. Don’t be afraid. [The faculty] is here.”