Editor’s Note: The following letter collected signatures online from Thursday evening until Sunday morning and was then sent to the administration with 375 signatures. A response from College president Janet Morgan Riggs was released on Monday and is available to view here.
Good afternoon, Dean Ramsey and President Riggs:
We hope this message finds you well. Unfortunately, today we have been brought together under less than joyous circumstances. After learning that Robert Spencer has been approved to speak on campus we, as members of the past and present Gettysburg College community, feel it is a necessity to express our concern. It was our time at Gettysburg that shaped us into the compassionate, thoughtful, principled individuals we are becoming, and it is our identity as Gettysburgians that compels us to issue this open letter.
From a sociological perspective, we understand the complexities and power dynamics at play in the difficult decision you and your office were forced to make. However, as equity-seeking, socially and politically conscious citizens and alumni of Gettysburg College, we are outraged by your willingness to allow a platform for the ideas zealously promoted by Mr. Spencer.
The ideas promoted by Spencer and his organization, Jihad Watch, have and will continue to incite physical, mental, and emotional violence against Muslims as long as they are allowed legitimate platforms. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Spencer’s “writing was cited dozens of times in a manifesto written by the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik. Spencer was banned from the United Kingdom as an extremist in July 2013.” These are just a couple of examples of the effects of his ideology. Allowing him to visit and speak will be an act of violence against Muslim students at Gettysburg College and will further legitimate his false and hateful message.
Spencer is the author of many books, including “The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion” (2006) and “Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America Without Guns or Bombs” (2008). These titles alone make it clear that his arguments are predicated on the deliberate conflation of Islam with terrorism. Mr. Spencer has made a name for himself by exploiting fears that are rooted in racism, colonialism, and Western-centrism. Inviting him to join in dialogue on campus is not presenting a difference of opinion but is instead allowing and fostering a level of hate comparable to anti-semitism.
Despite regard for and understanding of the right to free speech, bringing Robert Spencer to campus and hosting a platform for his opinions damages the atmosphere of diversity that Gettysburg College has publicly sought to foster over the past few years. There is a way to have healthy and respectful exchange of opinions and Robert Spencer is not a part of that equation. Spencer’s dialogue targets an entire minority population represented not just in this country but also on Gettysburg’s campus and by inviting him to speak, those people, those students and faculty members, have been betrayed.
In the name of free speech, Gettysburg College has chosen to facilitate an atmosphere laden with hate and fear. An opinion article for The New York Times written by Ulrich Baer, a faculty member at New York University, concisely summarizes this concern- “freedom of expression is not an unchanging absolute.” As the rising generations fight for cultural equality in this country, we are making space for the voices of the oppressed and we will not be making allowances to further their oppression.
It is the time we spent learning and growing at Gettysburg College that necessitates this letter. As graduates of Gettysburg, we are grateful to have been instilled with strong critical analysis skills and an appreciation for intellectual diversity. As we have entered the workforce, furthered our education, traveled the globe, and continued the growth that began at our beloved alma mater, we carry the citizenship pillars of Gettysburg College with us: to be curious, own and cherish our experiences, engage difference, and make an impact.
Many of us have come forward individually to express our disapproval of Spencer’s visit and those emails have all been met with the same stock response. Though we can all understand the justifications for such a response, it is undeniably dismissive.
We are sociologists, global communicators, psychologists, educators, scientists, counselors, linguists, faith leaders, doctors, and artists. What unites us all is our history with Gettysburg College and the pressing need to express our objection to Robert Spencer’s invitation to speak on campus. We demand that Gettysburg stands up for those who do not have powerful voices and against Mr. Spencer and all that he stands for by cancelling the event. Until our concerns generate results, many of us have committed to withdrawing any financial support for the college.
Thank you for your time and energy. We do not envy your current position.