UF students hold free speech forum ahead of Richard Spencer appearance

By Laurie Davison, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, October 12, 2017, 10:50 AM EDT
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With white nationalist Richard Spencer's well-publicized speech at the University of Florida a little over a week away, student leaders at the university sponsored a free speech forum on campus to discuss the situation and the First Amendment.

  • National Policy Institute paying $10,000 for event space
  • UF legally obligated to allow Spencer to speak
  • Costs for campus security during speech estimated at $500,000

The university is bracing for Spencer's speech, scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 19. Spencer's group, the National Policy Institute, is paying about $10,000 to rent space the the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on campus.

UF said it will not be affiliated with the speech in any way, but as a public institution it is legally obligated to allow Spencer to speak.

The student-sponsored forum Wednesday featured speakers discussing the complexities of the situation as well as the university's legal obligations.

"Part of it is educational on the First Amendment, that we are a government entity, that we can't censor somebody because their viewpoints are offensive and disagreeable," said Professor Clay Calvert, one of the forum's speakers, "but that his rights to free speech definitely end when he engages in what we call 'incitement of violence.'"

"I'm not afraid," said Dara Durosomo, a student attending the discussion. "I feel like there's a lot of people that support the minority communities and support us on this campus."

University of Florida President Kent Fuchs is urging students to stay away from the event, but he said he also understands their right to protest.

"Richard Spencer's plan is not to educate us or to recruit anybody from here," Fuchs said. "His plan is to be in the national media, so I think protests serve his plan and that's why I think it's the wrong thing to do, but if students want to protest I support that."

University officials estimate it will cost about $500,000 for security to protect the campus during Spencer's visit.

"$500,000 -- I'm not good at math but that's a lot of tuition money, and to me that's unacceptable that that's where our money is going," said Kimberly Payne, a senior at the school.

Some students said they plan to be on campus during Spencer's appearance. Others said they will stay away.

"I will definitely be at home. I do not want to be associated with it in any way," said Payne.