As the debate to be held on April 6 approaches between former UKIP leader Nigel Farage and former President of Mexico Vicente Fox, students and faculty are voicing their concerns about Farage and what they see as his anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and overall bigoted beliefs.
“Bigotry is not up for debate,” said a sign that religious studies professor Brett Hendrickson held outside Farinon from about 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday. He was joined by biology professor Elaine Reynolds on Tuesday, who held up a paper reading “Free Speech Not Hate Speech.”
They were protesting the fact that the college is hosting Farage, a political figure who orchestrated the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union and has been in the spotlight in the past for his controversial, and what some call hateful, remarks. Reynolds and Hendrickson said they plan to protest during every free lunch hour they have until the event.
Lafayette is the last stop on the “Nationalism vs. Globalism” debate’s Campus Liberty Tour, sponsored by the Steamboat Institute, a conservative organization which promotes the “defense of liberty,” according to its website. Government and law professor Brandon Van Dyck first brought this idea to President Alison Byerly as a Mill Series idea, and Byerly and her cabinet then decided to sponsor the event with the Lafayette Symposium.
In 2016, Farage said that the Jewish lobby in the United States had disproportionate power. The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League called the remarks “fuel for white supremacists who exploit and spread conspiracy theories about ‘evil, controlling Jews,'” according to an article in Newsweek.
As leader of UKIP from 2006-2009 and 2010-2016, he racked up many controversies. During the referendum for the U.K. to leave the E.U., he unveiled a poster entitled “Breaking Point,” showing a large crowd of non-white refugees, seemingly traveling somewhere into Europe. The sign declared that “the EU has failed us all,” and was criticized for promoting xenophobia, according to the Guardian. Users on Twitter likened it to Nazi propaganda.
Hendrickson said the debate is something that “should not have happened” at Lafayette.
“Nigel Farage [is] not the sort of person that a liberal arts college or anywhere for that matter that has values that we have of inclusion and diversity would want to have on campus, even in the name of free speech,” he said. He said he and other faculty told President Alison Byerly that Farage’s positions are not ones that they consider to be “debatable.”
Byerly said she agrees that “bigotry isn’t a legitimate point of view.” However, she went on to say that it can only be debunked through debate.
“I wish [bigotry] was a view that had no currency and no constituency in the world or in our country,” Byerly said, “but…I feel that there’s enough evidence both in our nation and in our world as a whole that some of the views that [Farage is] concerned about in fact do still carry some influence and are worth debating because only debate shows the weaknesses of those views.”
Byerly declined, however, to label Farage a bigot.
“In inviting someone here, it’s not my role to label an individual. I can certainly say that I understand the concerns about statements he’s made that have been widely viewed as showing bigotry. Our hope in holding this event is to allow those views to be challenged and debated in a way that I think is very different from endorsement,” she said.
Gabrielle Tropp, president of Hillel Society, and Ayat Husseini, president of Muslim Students Association, decided to take action together. They wrote a letter to Byerly detailing their concerns and were able to discuss them with her in a face-to-face meeting.
The meeting, Husseini said, began with concerns faculty brought up at the first faculty meeting after the debate was announced, after which she said Provost Abu Rizvi wanted to meet directly with students. Rizvi declined to comment on the meeting, saying he had nothing to add. Husseini and Tropp were first invited, but then decided they wanted leaders of other groups there as well.
On Monday, Byerly and Rizvi met with student leaders of organizations that represent minority groups, such as Association of Black Collegians, Hillel Society, the Muslim Students Association, the International Student Association and the Hispanic Society of Lafayette. Chaplain Alex Hendrickson, Dean of Equity and Inclusion Chris Hunt and some faculty members were also in attendance.
At this meeting, the student leaders were able to voice their concerns directly to Byerly and Rizvi about why they believe Farage should not be allowed to come to campus, and how they think his presence will create a hostile environment to “the emotional and spiritual well-being of students,” as well as their safety, Husseini said.
Husseini, Tropp and president of the International Student Association Austin Botelho agreed that Byerly was more than willing to listen to their concerns, but all three said that it did not feel like they would be able to change her mind about inviting Farage to campus.
Botelho took issue with the fact that both speakers are considered conservative and the moderator, Mary Kissel, is from the Wall Street Journal, which has a more conservative slant. He doesn’t think this debate is necessary to revive free speech on campus, since it is “alive and well.”
Tropp, Husseini, Botelho, Brett Hendrickson and Reynolds all agreed that the nationalism versus globalism debate is one worth having, but it is not necessary to have someone who espouses bigoted views be a part of that debate.
Tropp and Husseini had concerns when the original bulletin advertising the event described it as being open to the general public, as they feared that Farage may attract groups and individuals which also hold his bigoted views. Tropp mentioned her fear of attracting a white nationalist group in Phillipsburg. That group, the Aryan Strikeforce, had five of its members indicted last year on charges for “conspiring to transport methamphetamine, firearms, and machine gun parts to generate money to fund the activities of the Aryan Strikeforce, including the acquisition of firearms,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. This month, those in custody were charged with conspiring to set off a suicide-bomb at opposing demonstrations in Harrisburg in 2016, according to Lehigh Valley Live.
All three said that at the meeting, Byerly said security measures would be upped around campus during the event in response to these concerns.
Byerly did not respond for comment on upping security measures in time for print, but she did say she emphasized to the student leaders that the event will be open only to the Lafayette community. In a an email to the campus yesterday, she wrote that other than the Lafayette community, “access will be limited…to guests invited by the college.”
Byerly declined to reveal how much the visit cost to the college. The event is co-sponsored by the Steamboat Institute, a free speech organization which Byerly said is fair to call conservative.
“We don’t disclose speaker fees, but I can say that because this appearance is part of a coordinated tour of four campuses, the cost to Lafayette is significantly lower than for other major political figures who have spoken here over the last decade,” she wrote in an email.