Students, college prepare for discussion of Islam this week
By Benjamin Pontz, News Editor
Preparations for three events that will discuss aspects of Islam on Gettysburg College’s campus this week are underway.
The events — a speech on Islamophobia by Dr. Todd Green, Associate Professor of Religion at Luther College, a speech on Islamic fundamentalism by Robert Spencer, the Director of Jihad Watch, and a student solidarity rally in support of Muslim members of the campus community — have been planned within the last week since the college gave its approval for Spencer’s speech on April 20.
Last week, President Janet Morgan Riggs sent a campus-wide email in which she emphasized the campus’s commitment to freedom of expression, yet noted that the college does not necessarily endorse Spencer’s message, which some groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, have labeled hate speech. Spencer vehemently denies these charges. Riggs also announced that the college would host Green’s speech, which provides an alternate view, and that both events would be subject to security restrictions: only those with a college ID will permitted to attend, backpacks will be prohibited, and hand-held items will be subject to search.View Fullscreen
Later, the Gettysburg College Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced additional precautions in an entry on the College Digest email. The College Union Building will close at 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday, attendees will be able to enter through only the doors next to the ATM, and parking in front of the CUB on Lincoln Avenue will be restricted.
Jamie Yates, Gettysburg’s Director of Communications and Media Relations, said that the expansive security precautions are not in response to any specific threat and have been discussed with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
“Based on incidents occurring nationally at similar speaker events, information shared with DPS from outside law enforcement agencies, best practices and industry standards within the campus law enforcement arena, a complete security plan was achieved in concert with the college’s emergency response team,” she said in an email.
The cost for these security measures is not yet known, but Yates says that the security cost for unexpected events is built into the college’s annual contingency planning and budget.
Gettysburg’s Student Senate previously allocated $2,000 to YAF for expenses relating to Spencer’s speech. Luke Frigon, Treasurer and Chairman of the Budget Management Committee for Senate, reported late Sunday that YAF would use that money, which was previously in question after a false report from the YAF national organization stated that the college had pulled the funding.
Meanwhile, students have planned a solidarity rally with Muslim members of the campus community, which, according to the Facebook event, has nearly 190 planned attendees as of Sunday afternoon. The event information calls Spencer’s speech a “spectacle of hate.”
“We hope to shift the conversation from hate to solidarity by not only highlighting the experiences of Muslim students but also the love and peace ethics of Islam,” the event description said.
Advertisements for the rally indicate that the College Democrats and Gettysburg Anti-Capitalist Collective (GACC) are planning the event.
Additionally, a petition is circulating among some college alumni stating strong opposition to Spencer’s visit and threatening to withhold future financial support from the college if the event goes forward.
Yates said that the college appreciates the alumni’s ongoing engagement and that the concerns they raise were considered in the on-campus consultation process.
“People will engage with the decision in different ways,” she said.
Todd Green Lecture: Sunday, April 30 at 7:00 p.m. in Mara Auditorium
Robert Spencer Lecture: Wednesday, May 3 at 7:00 p.m. in CUB Ballroom
Muslim Solidarity Rally: Wednesday, May 3 at 7:00 p.m. in front of Penn Hall