In the latest episode of college students protesting for the sake of protesting, the UMass Amherst Graduate Employee Organization is marching against white supremacy, which they believe stems from the College Republicans’ recent speaker, Sean Spicer, the town’s police department, the university’s police department’s anonymous tip line, and the way the university responds to acts of hate.
According to its website, the Graduate Employee Organization represents graduate students who are also “teaching assistants, teaching associates, research assistants, project assistants, assistant residence directors, graduate interns, fellows, and trainees.”
The event’s Facebook Page, titled, “March Against Racism and White Supremacy at UMass Amherst,” listed several instances where hateful acts took place on campus in recent months, but then turns to criticize the College Republicans for hosting a speech by Sean Spicer on campus earlier this week.
“Sean Spicer was invited to speak at UMass and promote himself and his white supremacist views in an academic setting, thereby seemingly ‘legitimizing’ such views as a valid academic discourse,” the organizers wrote.
The organizers claimed that the university offers students “no protection from fascist white supremacists.”
They also added that students are “not offered any protection from the University’s policies which could limit the scope of what we can do to organize ourselves in defence,” adding, “It is unclear when and where the University intends to implement such policies, though they are not implemented in the face of hate crimes.”
Earlier this year, the College Republicans secured a major victory for free speech when their president, Nick Consolini, sued the university over its "free speech zone" policy, which forbade students from holding speeches and rallies anywhere other than an area that makes up less than 1% of campus between noon and 1.p.m. Several months later, the Board of Trustees changed the policy.
The union continued by listing several demands to the university, including abolishing the school’s anonymous tip line, which they say “targets People of Color,” and severing its relationship with the town’s police department, which they claim “encourages highly punitive University measures against students for any number of nonviolent/minor infractions.”
They also demanded that the administration document “racist/white supremacist hate crimes and treat them as such,” universally apply “predetermined consequences for white supremacist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, acts of hate,” and “stop fostering an environment where racism and fascism are protected under ‘freedom of speech.’"
On the UMass Police Department’s website dedicated to hate crimes, the department emphasized that “[h]ate crimes are against the law.”
“It is the policy of the UMass Police Department to safeguard the State and Federal rights of all individuals irrespective of their race, religion, ethnicity, handicap, sexual orientation, and gender and to treat seriously any acts or threats of violence, property damage, harassment, intimidation, or other crimes that infringe upon these rights,” the page stated. “Hate crimes are viewed seriously by the UMass Police Department and will be given high priority. The Department will use every necessary resource rapidly and decisively to ensure your safety, identify the perpetrators, arrest them and take vigorous enforcement action.”
The students also seemed to take issue with how the university tries to improve, including seeking feedback from students and launching campaigns.
One of the demands included that the “University create a long term plan to disinvest from useless neoliberal measures, such as empty campaign slogans, campus climate surveys, and faithless platitudes and invest in plans intended to powerfully tackle the problem at hand.”
“The University’s publicity campaign is failing because these heinous acts are exposing it for what it is,” the union wrote. “We are an amazing diverse community comprised of varying nationalities, races, genders, religions, sexualities and abilities and we call for more than public denunciation of these acts.”
A picture was also posted in the Student Union claiming that the university’s police department “upholds white supremacy.”
“They have their first amendment right to protest but I wish they would engage in constructive dialogue instead,” Consolini told The Daily Wire. “They claim they are 'denouncing the acts of cowardice,' but they won’t even engage in a discussion. Their demands are childish and unrealistic. Publicly denouncing the police department, chancellor, and Sean Spicer for his ‘white supremacist views’ isn’t productive or based in reality."
The protest is scheduled for December 6, just a week after their last protest on the day of Spicer’s speech, where the Graduate Employee Organization argued his appearance was not a matter of “freedom of speech, or the pretense of a ‘marketplace of ideas,’” but instead risked “people’s bodily autonomy, physical safety and ability to continue to work and study at UMass Amherst.”
At the Sean Spicer event, a small group of students interrupted his speech several times but declined Spicer’s invitation for the hecklers to join him on stage.
As somebody who was present at Spicer’s speech, I can confirm that nobody and nothing was harmed except for rational dialogue.