HOUSTON (AP) — Texas A&M University has announced it will hold an event to highlight diversity and unity at the same time a white nationalist is set to speak at the College Station campus in December.
The “Aggies United” event was put together after Richard Spencer, who is a leader in the “alt-right,” — a movement that mixes racism, white nationalism and populism — was invited to speak on Dec. 6 by a former student.
The unity event will be held at the university’s football stadium and officials expect students, faculty and staff as well as people from the local community to attend, said A&M spokeswoman Amy Smith. Spencer will be speaking at the Memorial Student Center, which is within walking distance of the football stadium.
“We’re excited about the event … because it will really be an opportunity to energize and be unified with our disgust really for this person who is not affiliated with our school,” Smith said. Speakers for the event and other details are still being finalized, she said.
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Spencer is set to speak at the invitation of the ex-student, Preston Wiginton, who as a member of the public can rent meeting space available on campus. Wiginton has been described as a white power activist by the Southern Poverty Law Center and has previously invited other white nationalists to speak on campus.
The National Policy Institute, Spencer’s group, drew headlines for its recent gathering in Washington, D.C., where some attendees mimicked the Nazi salute as they celebrated the presidential election of Donald Trump.
In a Nov. 22 interview with The New York Times, Trump denounced the white supremacist movement when asked, saying “I condemn them. I disavow, and I condemn.”
Spencer did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
“We’re disappointed that A&M is so closed minded they don’t want to come hear different points of view,” Wiginton said Wednesday. “One of the purposes of bringing controversial speakers to A&M is so the students can engage with the controversial figure directly.”
A&M President Michael Young said in a statement Tuesday that barring a breach of contract or unresolvable safety concerns, Spencer would not be prevented from speaking on campus, located about 100 miles northwest of Houston.
“Freedom of speech is a First Amendment right and a core value of this university, no matter how odious the views may be,” he said.
Young said he’s been heartened by the campus response against Spencer’s views and the “resounding affirmation that they do not represent the Aggie values we espouse and to which we aspire….”
Some individuals are organizing what they are calling a “silent protest” of Spencer, in which they plan to hold up signs which marching in front of the student center where he will be speaking.
Smith said as long as those individuals adhere to campus rules about such events, they won’t be prevented from protesting.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70