Members of the UCF College Democrats put up about 80 pro-diversity fliers around campus on Thursday night, just days after those put up by a white supremacist group grabbed students’ attention.
The Dems’ fliers–unlike those of American Vanguard which had multiple versions calling for “ending cultural Marxism” and proclaiming the right of white people to exist–had one message: “We all have the right to exist.”
“UCF is a community that respects and welcomes everyone, regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, or ability,” it said.
The Dems’ Director of Political Outreach Julia Jordan got the idea after the club’s members wanted to promote inclusivity following post-election reports about the rise of hate speech and possible hate crimes. The white nationalist fliers was what inspired her to organize and take action.
“The other side is being very vocal in their hatred, and I think we need to do something to drown them out,” she said.
And while Jordan did not personally see American Vanguard’s fliers, she said that she found it “horrible that that kind of hatred is making itself visible on our campus, which is supposed to be a place where people feel safe and feel welcome.” The purpose of the fliers, she said, was to “restore that.”
The new fliers were placed on many of the same buildings where the white nationalist ones were found, including the Health & Public Affairs building and the ROTC building next to Classroom Building 2. In many cases, the Dems’ fliers were located next to the ones from American Vanguard. Peter Yañez, another officer in the Dems’ executive board and one of the eight members who put fliers, wrote on the white patches where the old fliers used to be. His messages included “Fear Divides Us” and “Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech.”
“Even though [American Vanguard] pedantically say [their flier] isn’t racist, their core ideology is white supremacy,” he said. “They like to say it is free speech, but it’s hate speech, and what they are saying is dangerous.”
Jordan, the director of political affairs, took a more moderate view.
“Their posters were about promoting one group and it wasn’t about positivity, but about hatred and excluding other people while our posters are about everybody being welcome here,” she said. “I think they have the right to do whatever they want and say whatever they want, but so do we. And if we want to be louder with our love than they are with their hate, we have the right to do that too.”
While hate speech is defined by the American Bar Association as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits,” it has been routinely upheld in the courtroom. In the 2011 case Snyder v. Phelps, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the Westboro Baptist Church’s controversial signs against the LGBT community and the military are considered free speech so long as they do not promote imminent violence.
The conversation about both sets of fliers will likely be about hate speech versus free speech and whether the fliers and the ideas behind them are appropriate on college campuses. Jordan does not think that white nationalist and supremacist ideas belong in the campus conversation.
“I don’t think it’s a legitimate view,” she said. “I think it’s a view that’s rooted in bigotry and that it’s dangerous. It’s not something that’s based in fact, it’s not a legitimate discourse. It’s something that’s trying to make people on our campus feel like they’re not welcome here and that’s not acceptable.
Stephanie Melendez, a member of the Dems and an international and global studies major, agreed and said that it is impossible to have a discussion once one side “starts targeting groups.”
“I can respect you for having a different opinion, but not when it’s about putting people in the trash and making people feel that they’re nothing and that you’re the victim,” she said. “There’s literally thousands of years of white people saying that they matter; can we at least have 20 years or 60 years of saying people of color matter?”
UCF responded to the white nationalist material almost a day after they were put up, and it was not until Knight News’ made repeated requests for comment that a mass e-mail was sent to students and reporters. And while it did not directly address the fliers, the statement made clear that “[UCF] recognize[s] that diversity and inclusivity strengthen us, and we condemn any form of hate, discrimination and injustice.”
Still, the Dems’ fliers could find itself on the university’s radar. UCF Police are currently reviewing the American Vanguard fliers to identify the individuals who put them up.
“I can’t see where anybody can find issue with the message, UCF is a community that welcomes everyone,” Jordan said. “I would think it kind of ridiculous if they have a stronger and quicker response to us than they did to this group which was identified by multiple organizations as a group that’s spreading hatred.”
UCF Police spokeswoman Courtney Gilmartin said in an e-mail to Knight News that “there is no police review neessary” because the College Dems are a registered student organization and the university can easily contact its leaders.
The posters have since been removed.
Photo credit: Cristóbal Reyes