by Lane Hall
I read this at UWM faculty senate last week. It was not on the agenda. It is too long. People indulged me. This is in response to “Swastika Boy” at UWM last Monday. What is happening makes my heart ache and twists my gut. Maybe this is too long for you to read. But maybe you will read it anyway.
I work closely with a grad student who is a TA, the instructor of record, of one of our English Department’s core composition courses. The white supremacist student who held the swastika poster last week is one of his undergraduate students in the course. The other students in the course were freaked out by these events and felt seriously threatened. My graduate mentee was freaked out, and he felt he had to cancel classes because of the extreme risk of an unsafe environment. He felt that there was no one to turn to that would understand their fear, after reading the official UWM statement about the incident. This is what I feel is lacking in our institutional understanding. I continually witness this argument of the complexities of and protections for ”free speech,” when it is genocidal speech, murderous speech, as if such acts are without historical and current contexts that set dark and dangerous precedent. The symbol of hate isn’t just a violence in itself, which it is, but a signifier of rightwing grooming for larger acts of hate, of escalating violence that results in Poway, Pittsburgh, Oak Creek, Christchurch. We, as an institution and as intellectuals, need to understand the rise of neofascism in our times. These are not disconnected, stochastic events, but are campaigns on the dark-web, grooming sessions for disaffected and alienated young white men who everyone can disavow as “crazy,” “disturbed,” “attention seekers,” “losers…”. Until the next one, and the next one, and the next one that comes ready to “go all in.”
Here’s what I don’t understand about UWM policies: 1) We don’t allow guns on campus. 2) We don’t allow smoking on campus. 3) We don’t allow dogs (except in specific circumstances) on campus. 4) We would probably have issues with nudity on campus…. Yet, we proclaim the importance and necessity of allowing concrete and specific acts of hate speech in forms that are known to be both corrosive to civility, but also, and more importantly, constitutive of direct violence against specific people and groups of people. These are campaigns, not individual instances, and they are coordinated, with escalating consequences.
I am not referring here to controversial or extreme political positions. I am referring to concrete acts, signs, symbols and language that are premised upon the past, present, and projected future, slaughter of innocent people.
In conclusion, I propose that we set up a serious investigation into this rise of rightwing nationalist populism, in order to understand its recruitment strategies and dynamics aimed at colleges and universities. We are contextually blind without this knowledge. I propose that we create specific mandates about speech guidelines in our public and classroom spaces regarding expressions specific to the killing of other people, and I propose that our administrative response in the future is less equivocal and more emphatic about these issues, not framing them as a vague understanding of the rights of a few disaffected individuals, but as the threat to our core values, and to the safety of our community that will not be tolerated.