Don't give hate an audience

Dear Students: 

As we begin the year, we wanted to send a reminder that from time to time, West Chester University has visits from what we call “unexpected groups/speakers” on Campus. As many already know, WCU is a public institution that is open to all citizens. As such, we are required by law to make our campus open to all, including those who do not uphold our shared University values. This means that individuals who visit our campus have the Constitutional right to express their viewpoints regardless of whether we agree with them or not, providing they obey the law and do so in designated spaces (sidewalks and open areas). 

Unfortunately, at times, individuals who come to a college campus like ours do so not to engage in dialogue or make a genuine effort to affect change. Instead, some come to create conflict and sow division within our community. Groups with such agendas are often well-versed in free speech laws and are thus able to stay just within the boundary of free speech that has been upheld by previous Constitutional challenges. They are also adept at utilizing communication patterns that are intended to anger and provoke. When these visitors use hate-filled language, it is understandable that you may want to have them removed or banned from campus. Taking such action is not legally permissible.  If we remove or ban them from campus, it will open the institution up to lawsuits that will fund the expansion of that group’s attacks on our campus and others. 

It is important to understand that the funding that groups such as these need to continue their visits often comes from the attention they receive from crowds. The people who donate money to these groups see the videos produced during their visits and the massive crowds surrounding them. Funders then erroneously think the group’s campus visits are making a difference and decide to donate money. In addition, groups such as these often want a reason for a lawsuit. Enraging a crowd with hate speech can prompt censorship or escalate to violence. Censorship or violence against these groups will lead to lawsuits that will further fund their efforts. 

In the past, many have asked why the administration at WCU doesn’t change free speech policies on campus to limit the harm these visiting groups do to our community. This is also not legally permissible. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides broad protection to speech, including communication that some may view as “hate speech.”  After decades of dealing with such groups at WCU, we have come to understand that the most effective way to combat these groups is to ignore them. It has worked before and it will work again. 

Let’s not give any hate groups a chance to make money.  Let’s not help them fund their assault on our shared humanity.

If you encounter individuals or groups on campus expressing viewpoints different from your own, you have multiple options that we suggest that you consider:

  1. Ignore them. Make them Irrelevant. Without an audience, they have no reason to come back.
  2. Exercise your right to freedom of speech by peacefully speaking out in support of your values.  If those with whom you intend to communicate do not pay attention to you, revert to option 1.
  3. Join Student Government’s efforts to provide support and an outlet for peaceful responses to those who do not share the values espoused by the university.
  4. Remove yourself from the area or totally avoid the area.
  5. Remind others that by engaging these groups at their hate-filled level, you are giving them what they want and potentially helping to fund their campaigns of hate.

In any case, members of the University community will be present and can direct you to non-hostile places and alternative activities if necessary. Public Safety will also be present and is dedicated to keeping everyone safe from physical harm.

Dr. Tabetha Adkins, Interim Vice President, Student Affairs
Dr. Tracey Robinson, Vice President, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion