HYDE PARK — University of Chicago faculty and students questioned whether administrators know where to draw the line against hate speech at a Wednesday night community forum on campus.
Since December, the campus has seen a rise in recruiting efforts by white supremacist groups and incendiary posters around campus, and faculty and students are wondering what the administration is doing to dissuade white nationalist groups from actively recruiting on campus.
Anton Ford, an associate professor in philosophy, said it was outrageous that university President Robert Zimmer on Feb. 21 was quoted in the Wall Street Journal supporting students’ rights to invite to campus for public debate such controversial figures as Richard Spencer, an American white nationalist who is banned from 26 countries in Europe for his racist ideology and calls for ethnic cleansing.
“I don’t want Zimmer to decide who’s coming on campus, but I don’t want him rolling out the red carpet for Richard Spencer,” Ford said. “It makes it known publicly that he’s more welcome here than anywhere else.”
Zimmer’s comments happened at a particularly tense time in Hyde Park because it came a day after a bomb threat prompted the Hyde Park Jewish Community Center to be evacuated and a little more than a week after a white nationalist group had been found trying to recruit on campus.
After a March 9 incident in which university police released a man caught posting incendiary fliers on campus, the administration said it would do more to prevent such posters in the future and continue to build a non-threatening, non-exclusionary campus environment
“I want to reassure you we are incredibly concerned about these incidents on campus,” said Regina Dixon-Reeves, assistant vice provost for diversity and inclusion at the university. “I am here to listen and hear the experiences you all have had and your suggestions.”
Students said they were frustrated that they were having to take the lead to document and remove the recent rise in racist posters, stickers and graffiti on campus.
Claudio Sansone of Graduate Students United, which is working on graduate students’ ongoing process of forming a union, said the group has identified hot spots on campus for such posters around Regenstein Library, Cobb Hall and Harper Memorial Library.
He said student volunteers go out twice a day to check each of the locations and document and remove anything found there.
“People are really working long hours on this,” Sansone said.
He and others asked the administration to do more to notify the campus when there are serious incidents of hate speech and to do more to publicly dissuade such groups from trying to recruit on campus.
The university is pressing charges against a Matthew Urbanik, who was caught by university police posting incendiary posters on campus on March 9, police said.
Joanne Nee, the interim chief of the university police, said the university tried to push for a hate crime charge, but the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office is charging Urbanik with felony criminal damage to property.