If a year ago you asked any University of Florida student if he or she thought a white supremacist would ever speak on campus, he or she probably think you’re crazy.
The crazy happened.
White nationalist, Richard Spencer, spoke at the Philip’s Center on Thursday afternoon to a room full of angry protesters.
Despite initially fighting Spencer and the National Policy Institute’s initial attempt to speak on campus, UF was legally forced to host them. As a public institution, the university could not deny Spencer’s First Amendment right, no matter how grossly he abused it.
But just because the university had to host Spencer didn’t mean they had to stand by his message of hate and bigotry.
UF president, Kent Fuchs, and his team got to work on creating a campaign in opposition of the NPI, and to show support for the school’s diverse student body; So #TogetherUF was born.
According to the Facebook page, Together UF aims to “promote community through collaborative events, healthy dialogue and positive action.” Information on several tabling events held throughout the week can also be found on the page, as well as a link to the virtual assembly that was held during Spencer’s speech.
“Gators not Haters” shirts were distributed leading up to the event, and several shareable posts were featured (like a video of students of various genders and skin colors making a heart with their hands).
Who better to promote this campaign than Fuchs himself? He promoted it in a video on his Twitter page. Fuchs also stated in the video, “The values of our universities are not shared by Mr. Spencer, the National Policy Institute or his followers. Our campuses are places where people from all races and religions are welcomed and treated with love.”
Fuchs is very popular among students, as seen on the infamous “Swampy UF memes for top ten public teens” Facebook page, where he is portrayed lovingly in several “memes.” He is constantly seen around campus, interacting with students and making them feel welcome on campus.
Fuchs and UF administration were very transparent about the reality of what was facing our campus. A question and answer page with information about the event as well as university information for that day for both students and employees was shared (freespeech.ufl.edu).
Using Fuchs as the figurehead of this campaign was a great public relations move on the university’s part. It showed that although Fuchs was facing a lot of backlash for fighting the NPI harder on allowing Spencer to speak, he would not hide from the spotlight. Instead, he would unify his campus.
The overall PR aspect of how Richard Spencer speaking at UF was handled went as well as it could have. Fear was not instilled in the student body, and instead a sense of pride in the Gator Nation.
By Christi-Anne Weatherly