AUTogether: SPLC on Campus at Auburn cosponsors a much-needed event


On the evening of April 18th, Auburn University’s campus prepared itself for an appearance by notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer. Just hours before, he won the right to speak in the Foy Hall auditorium after initially having his talk cancelled by the university’s administration concerned about safety issues.

Tensions were high, as alt-right and antifascist groups were expected to show up on campus, and many students struggled with finding an effective and appropriate response to the controversial speaker. In response, some decided to protest or attend a student-led music festival on the campus green during Spencer’s talk. Auburn’s SPLC on Campus club helped sponsor a unique event, “AUTogether: Hashing it Out,” which was already scheduled and coincidentally coincided with Spencer’s appearance.

In the previous week, AU SPLC on Campus hosted an AUTogether town hall with the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association (BGPSA) and the Graduate Student Council (GSC). The town hall was advertised as an opportunity to have frank discussion about how the current political climate in the United States is affecting Auburn’s own social climate, especially regarding diversity, racism, and campus policies.

Then, just before the town hall, a group calling itself the “Auburn White Student Union” began flyering all over campus. Auburn University officials denied that the group denied that the group had any affiliation with the school, but the four college administrators who formed the panel at the town hall faced questions and complaints from both students and faculty about the lack of diversity on campus. Some criticism pointed to a perception that university officials dragged their feet in responding to the recently distributed racist, anti-Semitic flyers.

About 40 students attended the town hall. They discussed safe spaces, finding a balance between free speech and hate speech, the experiences of people of color and international students off campus in the broader Auburn community, and what comes next as the administration addresses these concerns. Both students and faculty seemed to have a productive dialogue with members of the university administration, and, one week later, AU SPLC on Campus, BGPSA, and GSC planned AUTogether: Hashing it Out, where participants could delve further into this dialogue with each other, this time in small groups.  At the end of the town hall, they learned that Richard Spencer was coming to campus.

AUTogether: Hashing it Out had been planned weeks in advance, but many erroneously assumed it was a counter to Spencer’s planned speech. Auburn initially cancelled his speech, and white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and antifascists from several states were expected to converge on the college town to protest what they viewed as an assault on free speech. No one could know exactly what was going to happen that Tuesday, but the AUTogether event went on as planned.

Without the presence of university administrators, about 75 students and faculty further discussed many of the same issues raised at the town hall. Beth Cooper McDaniel and Elizabeth Devore from AU SPLC on Campus helped run the event, but Jessica Norton of the BGPSA primarily facilitated discussion. Spencer was mentioned, of course, but this gathering wasn’t about him.

Many were emotional as they talked in detail about the racism, bias, and exclusion they had experienced since they had become a part of the “Auburn Family.” Both white students and students of color spoke frankly about their own ignorance, being an ally, and not being afraid to make mistakes as they learned and grew together in diversity. More events like this one need to be held, they decided, and club leaders running the event were vocal about reaching out to other student organizations to plan them.

That night, the attention of most students and the media may have been on the tense drama surrounding Richard Spencer’s appearance, but the important dialogue at the AUTogether gathering will bear fruit in the future, long after Spencer’s visit is forgotten. We hope it will lead to finding more common ground between Auburn students and faculty and that it will also inspire other organizations and other colleges to do the same.

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