Views expressed in opinion columns are the authors’ own.
It was advertised on a campus flyer. On April 5, the business school will host a “Nationalism vs. Globalism” debate between former Mexican President Vicente Fox and the “Architect of Brexit,” Nigel Farage.
Calling this event a debate is disingenuous. After all, this is simply Fox and Farage’s latest stop in the Steamboat Institute’s Campus Liberty Tour. In denouncing the event’s planned visit to their campus, student groups at Lafayette College — including Hillel, the Muslim Student Association, the Hispanic Society of Lafayette, the Association of Black Collegians and the International Students Association — all described the debate as “choreographed.” It’s not like Steamboat has sampled a diversity of political ideologies; Fox and Farage occupy slightly different positions on the right.
Steamboat itself is a right-wing think tank connected, through its CEO, to Turning Point USA. If that organization sounds familiar, it’s probably because they tried to influence this university’s student government election last year through the ill-fated Unity Party.
But Turning Point has also made a name for itself as a group of campus provocateurs, doxxing political opponents with a “Professor Watchlist,” using highly edited video to get administrators to sanction graduate students and professors and even trying to provoke opponents into violence as a means of discrediting them. Groups like Steamboat and Turning Point are pushing their ideological agenda on college campuses, often under the guise of free speech or debate. This was, of course, the logic behind the white supremacist Richard Spencer’s own recent — and failed — nationwide campus tour.
But the real issue isn’t that Thursday’s “debate” isn’t sincere. Rather, the issue is that through the event, this university is elevating white supremacist language and ideas.
Farage — “Architect of Brexit,” “Eurosceptic” and former leader of the UK Independence Party — made his political career by advancing blatantly anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, white nationalist politics. Farage has gone on record agreeing with the ideas of British fascist Enoch Powell, and he’s elsewhere asserted that racial discrimination should not be illegal in Britain.
His white supremacist politics thus cast the event’s title, “Nationalism vs. Globalism,” in a troubling light. Today, globalism is a code word that works to define who belongs and who does not, usually along racial lines; it functions variously as an anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic slur. Whatever the intentions of the business school in hosting this “debate,” it has now promoted an event featuring a white nationalist ideology and couched in white supremacist codewords.
University administrators — President Wallace Loh in particular — have a history of justifying racist language, and even racist actions, with appeals to “free speech” and the “marketplace of ideas.” Perhaps Thursday’s “debate” represents only the latest example.
In any case, “speech,” “debate” and “clash of ideas” are all misleading terms here. They suggest that whatever language Farage will use will occur in a vacuum, abstracted from the world in which he lives — or, rather, in which students at this university live.
But the context for “Nationalism vs. Globalism” is all too real. This event takes place at a university that is witnessing a five-year low in first-time students who are black. Some black prospective students don’t feel safe coming to this university. Just last year, a noose was found hanging in the Phi Kappa Tau chapter house on Fraternity Row.
This semester, in response to the long series of hate bias incidents against students of color on our campus, this university launched a campus climate survey. But Thursday’s event undermines this university’s claim that it is invested in promoting diversity and inclusion and improving the situation on the campus. For the business school to host a white nationalist like Farage and to advertise an event using racist codewords is to condone and worsen the threat that students of color here already face. It enables white supremacist ideas to circulate and, inevitably, to harm.
It’s happened before. Last spring, white nationalist flyers covered our campus while this university watched and waited. At the end of that semester, Lt. Richard Collins, a black visiting student, was killed, and a white student at this university was indicted on murder and hate crime charges.
What will happen now that it’s the university promoting white supremacy?
Tim Bruno is an English doctoral student. He can be reached at email@example.com.