Dear President Schlissel,
We understand a request has been made for Richard Spencer, a white supremacist and leader of the White Nationalist movement, to speak on our University of Michigan campus. In our capacity as leaders of Hillel and a dedicated campus partner, we would like to express our opposition to giving a person with such hateful views and a history of inciting violence against minorities a platform to speak on our campus. While we understand and respect the University’s commitment to freedom of speech, we have strong concerns for the safety and emotional wellbeing of our Jewish and other minority students, faculty and staff who will be directly impacted by the incitement a speaker like Spencer brings to any community.
As you are most certainly aware, Richard Spencer’s rally in Charlottesville this summer included chants of “Jews will not replace us” and the Nazi slogan “blood and soil”. His speeches rile up the audience to chants of “Heil”, waving arms in a Nazi salute. Allowing this rhetoric and hatred on our campus poses a threat to all Jewish and other minority students. Providing him a platform sends the message to our entire community that his views have a place on this campus, which they do not.
We are experiencing a rise in racist and anti-Semitic targeting on campus. We have been empathetic to the University administration in their challenging role in finding those responsible for these acts. Here is a situation in which the University can act proactively by insisting that Spencer’s views and incitement are not just antithetical to the values of this University, but pose a danger to our community, and therefore, they must be denied a platform.
While we urge you to do everything in your power to prevent Spencer from speaking, we recognize the legal difficulty this may pose to the University. We strongly encourage this University stand up against Spencer’s threats to sue any institution that denies his right to speak. If the University feels forced to give Spencer a platform to speak, we urge the University to vigorously pursue the following:
• Provide security to every individual, organization, student, faculty member and staff person who feels threatened by his presence on campus.
• Take an active stance against his views by personally speaking out against him, encourage the University community to not attend his event, further encourage your faculty and staff to join you in opposing his views, and lead a campus-wide campaign against his hate.
• Minimize the outreach of his voice by having him speak on December 22, after the last day of exams, during winter break or another time when most students and community members will not be on campus.
• Provide counseling services, as needed and when needed, to every student, faculty member and staff person who requests it.
• Support alternative spaces for our campus community to come together in rallies and programming that show that Spencer’s hate has no place on this campus.
In our Jewish tradition and community, we believe in rigorous debate and welcome disagreement. However, we believe that the arguments that are worthy are those that are for the sake of heaven or the greater good (Pirkei Avot / Ethics of the Fathers 5:17). There is nothing in the hateful messaging of Richard Spencer that adds to the greater good of our community. We hope in considering our greater good, you will deny Spencer’s request.
We welcome the opportunity to speak further with you about this situation.
Josh Blum, Hillel Governing Board Chair
Bob Stone, Hillel Board of Trustees Chair
Tilly Shames, Hillel Executive Director