Kent State community reacts to Spencer’s denied request

Kent State denied white nationalist Richard Spencer’s request to speak on campus May 4, the 48th anniversary of the infamous National Guard shooting that killed four Kent State students.

“I think he’s definitely going for a shock value, especially requesting May 4,” said James Krzoska, a sophomore biochemistry major. “If it was any other day other than May 4, or any other place, I don’t think it would be as big of a deal.”

Though Spencer’s request has been rejected, some in the Kent State community were still chagrined by the possibility that he might speak.

“I feel like he chose the Student Multicultural Center for a reason. There has to be something else going on. There’s so many other venues or buildings he could have spoken at,” Kyra Horton, a sophomore marketing major said. “I don’t know what he’s doing but … I feel like he chose the SMC just to trigger us, or get us angry or upset. Because he knew how we would feel, he knew that coming in here would stir up something or cause attention to the campus or the black community among Kent State.”

Spanish and Latino Student Association (SALSA) also prepared a statement on the choice of the Student Multicultural Center for the speaking event.

“While we understand that Richard Spencer and Mike Peinovich have their right to freedom of speech, our issue is that his rhetoric is so opposed to what the Student Multicultural Center stands and the university stands for. The SMC is a space that was designed to give a sense of belonging, specifically to students of color,” SALSA’s statement said. “The individuals that were requesting the SMC on May 4, were unacceptable. It goes against our mission statement in providing our community with a welcoming environment and mocks the efforts of safe spaces on campus.”

The choice of May 4 also raised skepticism.

“It was a day meant for respect, a day meant to honor those who died protesting what they believed in, it’s not about making a publicity statement,” said Jessica Kukura, the president of the College Democrats and a graduate school psychology major.

Jeffrey King, the communications director for the College Republicans and a senior managerial marketing major, said it was right for the university to deny the request, Spencer would not honor the day properly.

“We have a serious problem with politics being brought into May 4. It’s about the day itself,” said Jacob Tabler, the president of the College Republicans and senior political science major.

In a written statement released last Thursday, the university claimed that the rejection was due to a busy schedule between April 30 and May 12. While Kent State did not name Spencer’s political views as means for rejection, Spencer also accused several other universities, including Ohio State University and Penn State University, of infringing on free speech and oppressing the alt-right.

“Kent (State) has every right to not let him speak,” said Cheyenne Brown, a sophomore cellular molecular biology major. “Free speech doesn’t cover hate speech.”

Senior studio arts major, Katelyn Evans, felt that the response was not strong enough.

“You know how on those academic checklist(s) it’ll say requirement satisfied? That’s how I feel about Kent State’s response to that scumbag,” Evans said.“The university met the most basic good decision, but the way they reasoned their choice is yet another disappointment on how they’ve been handling this political climate.”  

Safety was another concern for students like  Atsuya Suzuki, a senior business management major.

“I think there are some students who support him and who are against him, so there would be conflict and is a little dangerous,” Suzuki said. “I think the school should not let him speak.”

Florida governor Rick Scott set a precedent to support students worries by declaring a state of emergency when Spencer spoke at the university this past October, which led to protests and violence.

“I’m from Florida, and I have a friend that attends Florida State University where Richard Spencer spoke. She had to stay home from class because of it. I think it’s mainly a safety issue,” Sierra Powers, a junior American Sign Language interpretation major, said.

The university utilizes a series of safety precautions when controversial events take place.

“The safety of our students and university community is our highest priority, and our campus safety team employs a variety of measures to ensure that safety, specific to each situation”, said Eric Mansfield, the executive director of media relations.

Still, some students believed Spencer had a right to speak—but perhaps not in the context he had wanted.

“All speakers from outside of the university must have a student organization sponsor them: Spencer still has no sponsor,” John Wroblewski a junior digital media production major said.

“While, in my book, Spencer is still free to just walk on campus and begin spouting hate, it is clear from student interest that he is not welcome here in any organized fashion. Any speaking engagement he were to have here, especially on a day as sensitive as May 4, would be a waste of everybody’s time and energy.”

Addie Gall is a student politics reporter. Contact her at [email protected].

David Williams is the safety reporter. Contact him at [email protected].

Tierra Thomas, Cameron Gorman, Taylor Patterson, Lily Nickel, Alissa Reyes, Gershon Harrell contributed to this article.