Open letter from 375 alums urges President Riggs to cancel Robert Spencer’s speech

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.

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Author: Jamie Welch

Jamie Welch '18 served as editor-in-chief of The Gettysburgian from May 2016 to May 2018. Jamie also served as the webmaster and as a staff writer for the features and news sections. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and a minor in Business. Follow him on Twitter @welchjamesk.

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  1. I love and respect Presidenr Riggs. But I think her response was essentially a dodge, and in my mind disappointing. In all of the discussions about the issue, how many people were white? As for the Muslim professors that were consulted – it just says they were consulted. It does not say they agreed with the decision, and I’m pretty sure that would have been included in her response if they had supported it.

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  2. looks as if free speech – in the Land of the Free- is really on life support. How sad….

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  3. If you can’t win the free speech debate and can’t win the koran verses are hateful debate, the best thing to do is to ban the speaker! Free speech that is upsetting to students must not be allowed. That is hate speech and cann not be allowed. What a queer world we live in now.

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  4. We only need to listen to what Muslims say to their Muslim audiences using resources such as Nemri Tv, which provides translations into English, to realize that what Robert Spencer documents as well as many many others, is the true face of Islam. Is it not better to host this experienced author, hear what he has to say and see if his arguments can be refuted by the facts? We are not at war with Islam but Islam has declared war on us. It is an ideological battle that is best won through education.

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  5. Bill Ayres was allowed to speak in 2013. It would be a complete double standard to not allow Robert Spencer on campus.

    The role of a University is to protect and promote free speech. This letter may represent some alums, but certainly by no means all alums. it will be a sad day if Gburg disallows Spencer to speak because a population of the campus is unable to reconcile that differing beliefs and opinions are out there…

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  6. That’s the most ignorant letter I’ve ever read, which speaks volumes about the intelligence level of Gettysburg alums. Every alum who signed this letter should return their degrees. Islam can be conflated with terrorism because Islam IS terrorism. The “acts of violence” are being perpetrated by Muslims in accord with Islam’s Jihad doctrine (see Quran).

    You think you have “strong critical analysis skills?” That’s a joke! Concerning Islam your “skills” are at the 4th grade level. Read Robert Spencer’s books and educate yourselves about Islam since current events aren’t doing it.

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  7. Apparently the alumni of Gettysburg don’t think that the current students have the critical thinking skills to listen to Spencer and decide on their own whether he is worth their time or not. Sunlight is the best disinfectant for bad ideas.

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    • Hello BG —

      As a 68 year old senior citizen who clearly remembers 1965-66 free speech UC Berkeley’s chaos, let me chime in on this: the alumni of Gettysburg are scared to the point of heart failure that Robert Spencer will tell students what they have never heard:

      Islam is NOT a religion of peace. It was created from the subconscious mind of a man who had several parental tragic abandonments in childhood. That is why it contains such retributive violence against authority.

      Easily understood by all of us (as Muhammad’s reaction to early terrible cruelty), but shattering to a “religion” which claims equal validity with Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism.

      “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” was written in the majority opinion of one of our SCOTUS Justices: the best countervail to offensive speech is MORE speech, not shouting down opposition.

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