A tense standoff between University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce and several hundred protesters unfolded on the steps of Gerberding Hall Monday.
Tensions flared Monday on the University of Washington campus when several hundred protesters confronted UW President Ana Mari Cauce and demanded that she be more forceful at addressing hate speech on campus.
The crowd, most of whom appeared to be students, gathered on Red Square around 11 a.m. to voice opposition to a rally advertised on Facebook supporting President Donald Trump and his plans to build a wall on the Mexican border.
But the pro-Trump forces never showed up. Instead, only protesters decrying Trump’s policy announcements appeared.
At first, Cauce and several other UW administrators stood off to the side, apparently unrecognized by the students, and praised the peaceful demonstration.
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“There’s something very precious about the commons,” Cauce said, gesturing to Red Square. “Look at these guys. They’re very energizing.”
She said the university has an open campus that allows for peaceful protest, and gives students the chance to exercise their First Amendment rights.
But after Cauce returned to her office in Gerberding Hall, the mood of the crowd changed. There was a scuffle with UW Police in front of Gerberding, and one protester said a UW police officer had shoved a man for no reason. The crowd called for Cauce to come out of her office.
Around noon, Cauce did come out. Standing on the steps of Gerberding and flanked by UW Police, she told students that the university can’t allow some groups to speak, and deny that right to others, because of the political content of their talk. And she told them she could not protect them from ideas they don’t agree with.
She was referring to a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, the conservative provocateur and Breitbart News technology editor, whose appearance on campus Jan. 20 caused demonstrations on campus that, at times, grew violent. One man was shot in the abdomen.
“Listen folks, I was very clear, I thought that Milo — he’s repulsive,” Cauce said to the group.
“I used the word repulsive — I’ve been called to task for that,” she said. “In terms of white supremacists, I think people here know they murdered my brother when he was 25. The idea of what’s happening here is as terrifying for me as it is for you.”
Cauce’s brother was shot and killed in North Carolina while demonstrating in 1979 against the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. The event is known as the Greensboro Massacre.
Miriam Zeghmi, a UW senior majoring in communications and early-childhood and family studies, asked Cauce what she was doing to neutralize the hate brought about by Yiannopoulos’s talk, and why the university didn’t respond more forcefully to the case of a Muslim woman student who was hit in the head with a bottle on campus shortly after the election.
“She didn’t seem to give a very straight answer,” Zeghmi said after the protest broke up. Zeghmi said she understood the constraints Cauce is under, but also said she thought “the anger toward her is justified.”
The university had thought there might be a pro-Trump rally Monday because a group calling itself “UW Wall Building Association” posted the event on Facebook. The UW College Republicans, however, say the event announcement was fake, placed online to bait students and the media.
The pro-refugee rally came more than a week after the Yiannopoulos speech, and as students and faculty say the campus is on edge because of the perception that hate speech is on the rise.
Some students and faculty who say they’ve been targeted by online harassment and threats are calling for a more forceful response from the university.
Also making the rounds: A letter that was submitted to Cauce by faculty and staff calling for Cauce to take action to change the climate on campus.
In the letter, the petitioners say Yiannopoulos’s talk and the wall-building event “get close to, if not cross, the line of hate speech.” The letter outlines four steps its signers want the administration to follow, including banning such events as hate speech; condemning the events and their messages; showing solidarity with students, staff and faculty; and putting resources into helping the community heal in the face of hate speech.