In response to Robert Spencer, an active proponent in the counter-jihad movement, speaking on Truman’s campus 8 p.m. Thursday, April 13 in Violette Hall 1000, students and organizations have spoken out both for and against this event taking place.
Supporters of Spencer’s appearance include junior Ben Terrell, President of College Republicans, the group who brought Spencer to campus with $3,000 allocated to them by the Funds Allotment Council. Spencer’s critics include junior Sabiya Azim, President of the Muslim Student Association, an organization on campus which has expressed dissatisfaction with Spencer’s presence on Truman’s campus but has advocated for peaceful and non-disruptive protest while he speaks.
In addition, MSA was allocated $3,000 by the FAC to bring their own speaker to campus. Faizan Syed is the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islam Relations-St. Louis — a civil rights and advocacy group aiming to bridge the gap between Muslim and non-muslim people — and will speak immediately before Spencer at 6:30 p.m. in the same venue.
Terrell says the main purpose of both events happening is for students to stay safe and to learn something.
“Peaceful protests, if those are the protests we have to have, we want them to be peaceful but we want something that won’t be disruptive to learning either,” Terrell says. “People holding up signs so that others can’t see and chanting so loud that others can’t hear, we don’t want that because we want people to go and learn something … There will be people who will come and benefit from it.”
Terrell says while Spencer speaks, the College Republicans would like the environment to be an intellectual discussion where people feel free to ask questions and share differing perspectives with Spencer. Terrell also says he believes this discussion can happen peacefully on Truman’s campus.
Terrell says his organization was adamant that Spencer conduct a question and answer session for students, so that those in attendance who have done research about or have experience with Islam can share their perspectives and challenge any misinterpretations.
“We’re here for a discussion,” Terrell says. “Truman will have a chance to speak to it come Thursday at [8 p.m.]. As far as actually having violence erupt, I have nothing but the [utmost] faith in Truman students. I hold them to very high esteems that I hold myself to and I am adamant that there will be no violence at this event and there will be no violence afterwards. I truly believe that.”
Azim holds similar views to Terrell in regards to everyone at the event and in the Truman community staying safe.
“[MSA has] tried to take the initiative to let [other organizations] know personally we don’t want anything that’s violent or destructive,” Azim says. “Whenever we’ve talked to anyone or we’ve had meetings, the one thing we’ve cared about most is safety. Not just for MSA students but for all students, the protesters and those supporting Robert Spencer as well.”
Azim says she and others in MSA feel shocked and disappointed Spencer is coming to campus and says she believes some of Spencer’s comments in the past have misrepresented her Islamic faith. However, Azim says she hopes those attending his event will attend their event as well and hopefully gain some more insight on their religion.
Azim says she thinks the situation is complicated further because many people who might hear what Spencer has to say might not have had a personal interaction with Muslims that can confirm what reflects Azim’s experience.
“For him to paint us with a broad brush is so unfair,” Azim says. “I understand free speech, but where does free speech end and where does hate speech begin? … That’s why we’re hoping to just get those two sides so that everyone does get a full perspective.”
According to an email sent out by Sara Holzmeier, department of public safety director, law enforcement from DPS and the Kirksville Police Department will scan all people who enter Violette Hall 1000 with metal detector wands. In addition, according to the email, no bags of any kind will be permitted into the room, reiterating an emphasis on safety at both events.