University of Florida students protested against white nationalist speaker Richard Spencer by gathering in front of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts at UF in Gainesville on Oct. 19. Hundreds of students from the campus came in hopes of shutting down the speech given by Spencer, who visited the university to speak about his beliefs on white supremacy, not equality among the races. Even though UF itself denied NPI, the National Policy Institute, to speak, Spencer was protected by his First Amendment right to speak publicly on campus. UF had no choice but to allow the speech.
On the day of the speech, the streets surrounding the Phillips Center were flooded with Florida Gators holding signs that expressed messages such as “Not ALT-right, ALT-wrong” and “No Nazis.” Protesters also screamed chants such as “Go home, Nazis” and “Black Lives Matter.” Almost every Florida Gator who came to protest clearly addressed their disapproval of Spencer.
Elisabeth Brooke, a 19-year-old sophomore at UF, got the chance to enter the Philips Center to hear Spencer speak. According to Brooke, not much of the audience was supporters, either. “It was absolutely crazy. Everybody who wasn’t for him was shouting and telling him to leave and go home,” says Brooke. She stated that regardless of race, gender and religion, everyone is in this together. She also expressed that she personally does not stand for what Spencer believes in and that she was proud of all the people who came out in support of equal rights. “Historically black and brown people have been at the frontlines, and here we are again, and we’re killing it,” adds Brooke.
Even 28-year-old Matthew Cugini, who graduated from UF in 2011, came back in support of his college. Wearing a “Love is Strong” shirt, Cugini said, “I was told to stay home, but I think it’s important to demonstrate that we’re not going to allow people like this to just walk on our campus and say what they want and let it go unnoticed.” He also voiced that the numbers of people who protested clearly outnumbered the white supremacists and that NPI does not speak for the majority of people.
University President Kent Fuch, sent out an email to all UF students on Oct.10, more than a week before the Spencer speech, giving students a heads up of what to expect during Spencer’s visit and not to support his cause at all costs. In the email sent out, Fuchs stated, “I ask that you not let Mr. Spencer’s message of hate and racism go unchallenged. Speak up for your values and the values of our university. … Those of us in the majority must speak up for those in the minority and make our voice of love and support heard.”
The Gainesville community stood together as one and put up a fight against racism and discrimination. They claim to have won this one, and they are ready to stand together again for anything the future might hold that challenges equal rights and freedom of all people.