More and more "alt-right" speakers are targeting college campuses
A new guide aims to "educate students in advance" about such speakers
So, an “alt-right” speaker is coming to your school. What now?
You can choose to ignore it, you can choose to enlist support from groups normally targeted by the alt-right, or you can simply choose to hold a “joyful” peaceful protest.
Whatever you do, you should deny the speaker a “spectacle” or “heated confrontations.”
These and many more tips are available in the newly released Southern Poverty Law Center campus guide to countering the alt-right. Titled “The Alt-Right on Campus: What Students Need to Know,” the guide aims to give students a 360˚ look at the alt-right movement, its main speakers and most importantly, suggestions on how to combat the movement.
The guide came out just a few days before the clashes and confrontations sparked by the weekend’s planned “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, home of the University of Virginia. Lecia Brooks, SPLC director of outreach, said she thinks the guide could have been helpful in that situation, because it could have helped single out the violent groups that went to Charlottesville for the rally.
The SPLC is an Alabama-based nonprofit organization that monitors hate crimes and hate speech across the country. It released the guide because it believes students are not adequately prepared to deal with the influx of alt-right speakers that have started to flood college campuses throughout the country.
The term alt-right has become intertwined with the term white nationalism, which originated as a euphemism for white supremacy, the belief that white people are superior to all other races and should therefore dominate society, according to Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism.
Though people who hold these beliefs may go by names like alt-right, identarians or race realists, this is simply a rebranding: “a new name for this old hatred,” Segal said.
Reflecting what observers say is a glaring nationwide trend, many college campuses have seen increasing tensions – in some cases outright confrontations – surrounding controversial speakers and programs in recent months.
Two examples: A scheduled appearance by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in February at the University of California at Berkeley was canceled amid near-riots. And in April, three people were arrested at Auburn University in Alabama amid mostly peaceful protests over the appearance of white nationalist Richard Spencer.
What to do, what to say
The SPLC guide is “meant to educate the students in advance,” said the SPLC’s Brooks. She said college administrators and leaders of college groups were ill-equiped to deal with these speakers.
“What often happens is [these speakers] will present themselves as conservative thinkers,” Brooks said. “They don’t really identify themselves as white nationalists.”
The guide is being distributed by the SPLC’s on-campus program. It is being sent to over 2,000 schools across the country, including historically black colleges and universities.
On the receiving end are student unions, student groups and college administrators.
Aside from identifying and explaining the main actors behind the alt-right movement, it also offers tips on how to address the situation before the speakers come to campus.
It encourages students to speak to their classmates, make a YouTube video or print out a pamphlet. Other ideas include passing out buttons and making T-shirts.
The guide also suggests enlisting college leadership, faculty and others for help.
Rise of white nationalism on College campuses
Brooks said white nationalism began to grip college campuses throughout America around 2012, with the first “White Students Union.”
The union was founded by Matthew Heimbach at Towson University in Maryland. Since then, various other alt-right speakers, such as Yiannopoulos and Spencer, have had successful campus tours. College is a formative time and these speakers normally thrive in that atmosphere, according to Brooks.
For Brooks and the SPLC, the guide isn’t about radical new ideas to combat the alt-right and white nationalism, it is more of a way to introduce Yiannopoulos and Spencer to the average college audience and explain that behind the “conservative” speaker is really a white nationalist mentality.
“Students often don’t know who they are,” Brooks said, and college administrators find themselves in a tough situation trying to protect free speech and also curb hate speech.
The most important piece of advice
The guide’s most crucial piece of advice is to not engage directly with the speaker or resort to violence.
“There are many other ways to challenge the beliefs of this movement.” it reads.