College campuses in Washington and across the country are having a necessary debate surrounding free speech and
protections for students who are directly affected by the violent rhetoric of guest speakers and actions of hate groups.The physical and emotional safety of the students on our campuses should not be
up for debate.
The Washington Student Association stands strongly against all racist ideologies, white supremacy, Nazism, and all other forms of hate and discrimination. We expect all organized student groups, campus administrations, faculty, and staff at our campuses to hold themselves to that same standard and act accordingly; on and off campus. Any action or statement that threatens the sanctity of our campuses or the safety of our students will be met by a strong student response.
The "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia provided hate groups with a platform to spew racist, anti-Semitic, and Nazi-influenced rhetoric which stands against our core values as students and as a system of public higher education. We are disappointed to find that one of our undergraduate students, the former president for the Washington State University College Republicans (WSUCR), participated in this rally.
The WSUCR statement that was released recognized the participation of their president at the Charlottesville rally and confirmed his resignation as president of the club. While the extent of his participation was not addressed, videos posted online display his passivity to actions and symbols of hate around him. His inaction demonstrates his inability to lead an on-campus student group which seeks to represent the interest of students at the WSU campus and increase political participation among students.
The WSA wishes that that the statement by WSUCR would further condemn the actions of their former president and the hateful sentiments driving the rally. However, we see the resignation by the former president of WSUCR as a necessary step in mending relationships between students at WSU and the larger campus community. Our mission as representatives of 130,000 public university students in the State of Washington is to unify student voices around issues that impact the affordability, access, and quality of our institutions. We recognize that our statewide advocacy and the organizing conducted by on-campus student groups is political and personal- frequently causing debate among students and state legislators alike.
A letter addressed to WSU President, Kirk Schulz, authored by members of the Washington State Legislature, seeks to revoke the registered student organization (RSO) status from WSU College Republicans. State lawmakers argue that Washington State University offers a platform for hate by offering an "official sanction" for the on-campus student group. It is important for us to highlight the distinction between the actions and beliefs of an individual and the mission of registered student clubs. We may not agree with all ideologies along the political spectrum, but we should not seek to deinstitutionalize on-campus student groups simply because of these disagreements. The former president conducted his actions on his own accord - not as a representative of the WSU or the college republicans.
Like the state legislature, we want to make our campuses inclusive and safe for all. The academic success of our students depends on campus climate and sustained services just as much as the quality of our faculty and research centers. Although the letter by the legislators is well-intended, its offered solution and blame surrounding hate on campus is misguided. Requests to sanction a student group in this manner sets a dangerous precedent for the relationships between student groups and their actions that could have serious repercussions imposed by the Washington State Legislature. We had a similar response in June, when state legislators were seeking to defund and privatize The Evergreen State College as a reaction to the protests lead by students. We stand for our students’ right to free speech and we urge students to voice their opinions, but we cannot condone instances of intolerance, attempts to silence our students, or disassemble their groups.
Recent events at The Evergreen State College are part of the larger national conversation surrounding students’ rights to protest, students safety on campus and students freedom of speech. As part of this conversation, we recognize that there is a need to improve campus climate for all students regardless of their identity while navigating the dichotomy between free speech and safe spaces.
The Evergreen State College’s Day of Absence and Day of Presence event is meant to encourage the campus community to have honest conversations about their values and build community through a deeper understanding of the oppressive forces that exist within our systems of higher education. At the Evergreen Olympia campus, students have led protests to address the demands of students of color.
We are concerned to know that some of the reactions include financial threats to withdraw state funding. There was a separate event that included physical threats from members of the public and has escalated to the point where local law enforcement received a warning of a violent threat towards The Evergreen State College. Due to these circumstances, the University was evacuated and shut down for two days. Although these two separate events were not correlated, this goes to show there is an ongoing problem about having courageous conversations about race.
There is proposed legislation that seeks to privatize The Evergreen State College which would remove all public funding towards their University. This action has potential to be harmful in regards to the funding sources and would have a negative impact on the student demographic which has high financial needs.
Whether legislators choose to support the demands of students or not, a legislative proposal to privatize the school should not be based on a disagreement of the way civic engagement occurs on this campus. This legislation was a myopic and disingenuous response. Further, this legislation is counterproductive as it sets a limit on students constitutional rights to free speech, rather than addressing the root causes of student concerns.
The Washington Student Association encourages all students to act as their own advocates and build their university to suit their needs. As the biggest stakeholders in the university system, students have the right to voice their concerns. We hope that campus administration and representatives in the City of Olympia put the concerns of students at the forefront of any political agenda in the name of higher education.