College to host two events discussing Islam next week
By Benjamin Pontz, News Editor
After deliberation by college administration and despite opposition from numerous students, Robert Spencer, the Director of Jihad Watch and a FOX News contributor who focuses on Islamic fundamentalism in the context of terrorism, will speak at Gettysburg College next Wednesday, May 3 at 7:00 p.m. in the College Union Building Ballroom.
On Tuesday evening, President Janet Morgan Riggs sent a campus-wide email in which she emphasized that the college does not necessarily endorse Spencer’s message and said the college’s decision was difficult because it “pits two core institutional values against one another: the free and open exchange of ideas and the exploration of their ethical and spiritual dimensions; and the commitment to a diverse and inclusive learning environment.”
A Facebook post by the Gettysburg YAF chapter stated, “On behalf of all of our hard working members, Student Senate, the college administration, and everyone else who helped out with this cause, we are excited to announce Robert Spencer, creator of Jihad Watch and prominent academic voice on Islamic fundamentalism, will be coming to campus to speak.”
Another post thanked the Student Senate and college administration “for their commitment to furthering the causes of free thought and speech on this campus.”
Nick Arbaugh, Vice President of YAF, said that after Spencer’s presentation there would be an opportunity for students to ask questions and engage in academic debate.
Riggs said that the college decided to allow Spencer in keeping with the spirit of its policy on freedom of expression, which references Louis Brandeis’s oft-quoted comment that “If there be a time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
In addition to Spencer’s speech, the college will host a speaker on Sunday, April 30 at 7:00 p.m. in Mara Auditorium: Dr. Todd Green, Associate Professor of Religion at Luther College, will present on “Professional Islamophobia.” Then, on Wednesday, Spencer’s speech will be entitled “The Political Ramifications of Islamic Fundamentalism.”
Both events will be restricted to those with a valid college identification card, and no backpacks will be permitted. Furthermore, handheld items will be subject to search.
Spencer’s speech comes on the heels of a controversy that has gripped the campus community since April 10, when the Student Senate approved a request from the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) for $2,000 to bring Spencer to campus. Several students have circulated petitions in opposition to the speech, but campus political organizations — including College Democrats — have been united in their support for allowing freedom of expression and, thus, to allow the event to move forward.
Late last week, YAF’s executive board met with the Student Life Committee, which is composed of administrators, faculty, and students, and, after that meeting, Dean Julie Ramsey, Vice President of College Life and Dean of Students, gave YAF approval to move forward in the scheduling process.
Previously, Ramsey said the college was evaluating whether allegations that Spencer is part of a hate group were valid and whether his speech would align with the college’s mission statement and institutional values.
“We have a strong commitment to freedom of expression,” Ramsey said in an interview last week. “Is it a strong value? Is it an important value? Absolutely; no question about it. But is it an absolute value that anyone and everyone is welcome to speak on a college campus at any time? I don’t think so.”
Ultimately, Riggs challenged Gettysburg students to engage constructively next week.
“Next week will give us an opportunity to test our community’s ability to hear and respond constructively to two very different views on an important issue,” said Riggs. “I have great confidence in the ability of our students, faculty, and staff to listen to and debate thoughtfully a point of view that may not only be counter to theirs, but which they might also find to be offensive. We understand that this is a particularly challenging time for the Muslim members of our community, and I trust that we will offer them our reassurance, encouragement, and support.”