On Oct. 19, 2017, Richard Spencer, a leader of the alt-right movement, came to the University of Florida to speak on behalf of the National Policy Institute.
His arrival sparked a range of emotions from Asian Pacific Islander Americans on campus. Some students were outraged by UF’s decision to allow Spencer to speak. On Monday, No Nazis at UF, a coalition of local, community organizations, held a press conference on its present demands for the university and its stance against Spencer. At the end, they proceeded to march to President Fuchs’ office at Tigert Hall to urge him to speak to them. They were not allowed into the building and police were called.
Trevor*, a 25-year-old political science major at UF, attended the event and participated in the demonstration. He expressed his concern when he first heard about the announcement of Richard Spencer coming. He expected that UF would reject his opportunity to speak; he felt that UF was actively enabling the Nazis.
“Richard is coming and advocating for ethnic cleansing for people of non-European descent,” Trevor said. “Instead of the university clearly recognizing that it is a safety risk, it is putting me, my family and all the workers here in danger.”
According to AAPI Data, Asian Americans have lower voting rates at 49 percent compared to white and black people at 65.3 percent and 59.4 percent respectively.
Timothy Tia, one of the organizers of No Nazis at UF protest, reasoned that Asian Americans should be engaged in political issues because of how several Asian countries have faced destruction because of totalitarian governments such as in Vietnam, China and North Korea.
“Although the aims of the Viet Cong, Mao and the Kim family are very different from the aims of Richard Spencer, I think the same underlying problem is there — that they didn’t respect the humanity of people,” Tia said.
Benjamin Lowe, a 33-year-old master’s student at UF’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, spoke on how he was deeply troubled upon hearing about UF allowing Spencer to speak. He felt grateful that the university clarified its opposition toward Spencer and his values, and he appreciated the law enforcement for ensuring people’s safety.
Lowe serves as an ordained minister through Christian Missionary Alliance and at the Gainesville Chinese Christian Church. He was invited to speak with several other religious leaders at city hall in an interfaith gathering, rejecting Spencer’s beliefs. The leaders spoke on their commitment to love and peace while standing in opposition to Spencer’s message.
“Sometimes, they describe their ideology as having Christian roots to it, and that’s absolutely false. What they are teaching is [antithetical] to what the Bible teaches,” Lowe said. “It’s not just not particularly Christian. It’s actually anti-Christian.”
The University of Florida Police Department’s press release reported that 2,500 demonstrators came to the Phillips Center to protest. Students, local organizers and visitors from all over Florida rallied against hate and discrimination.
Joining the protesters was Shayli Patel, a 21-year-old economics major at UF. She attended the protest because she felt like UF was encouraging people to ignore the event. She believed in fighting for what she thought was right.
“It wasn’t just people chanting anti-Nazi kind of stuff. People were chanting Black Lives Matter, different chants to support different communities,” Patel said. “Everyone was showing solidarity for each other.”
* Name has been changed.
Photos by Zachariah Chou.