UF President Kent Fuchs will hold a town hall meeting today at 6 p.m. in Emerson Hall to gauge students’ opinions about racially charged incidents on campus.
At a Board of Trustees meeting Friday, Fuchs spoke of the challenges of defending free speech while denouncing acts of hate on campus. He spent about 10 minutes discussing recent racially charged incidents on campus, such as a noose found in a Weimer Hall classroom and a man with a swastika on his sleeve on Turlington Plaza.
Most recently, anti-Muslim graffiti was found in McCarty Hall B on Thursday, he said.
The graffiti, which a graduate student found in a bathroom stall, said things like, “Muslims kill gays,” UF spokesperson Janine Sikes said. It was removed, and University Police Chief Linda Stump-Kurnick was notified of the incident.
Fuchs told the board and other top administrators that determining how to respond to these incidents was difficult. He pointed to emails he sent to students after these events and columns he’s written for the Alligator.
“We’re wrestling with that, about what we should do,” he said. “We don’t want cameras everywhere on campus, we don’t want patrol officers on every corner. These are truly rare incidents. Collectively, we feel them.”
Lyrissa Lidsky, a professor at UF’s Levin College of Law and a First Amendment expert, said as a Jewish woman she understands the hurt felt when racially charged incidents happen, but the First Amendment limits response. She said Fuchs has to endure undue criticism of his actions by people who do not understand the guarantees of the amendment.
“We, as government actors — and as a public university we are government actors — cannot ban speech simply because we find it hateful or offensive,” she said. “So long as it is peaceful and in a public space, we must allow that speech.”
Zina Evans, the vice president for UF’s Division of Enrollment Management, said it’s hard to have conversations about what steps to take when people are still hurting. She said you have to address the hurt first, and then you can move forward.
“When you’re hurting, when you have personally been slapped in the face, civility and deep conversation are kind of 10 layers below that emotion,” Evans said.
Alejandro Arteaga, a 22-year- old UF business administration senior, said he understands the limits the First Amendment imposes on response but thinks more could be done.
He said when the man wearing the swastika was on campus, it could have spiraled out of control and the police should have intervened.
“I believe that there has to be a limit,” he said. “That can end in violence, that could have ended in a different way, and there has to be a limit.”