ASHLAND, Ore. – A zoom event has started some controversy on Southern Oregon University’s campus.
The event titled, “Why I Left Antifa” is a virtual event organized in part by the College Republicans organization at SOU.
The event is open to the public and includes a speech by Gabriel Nadales, followed by a Q&A. Gabriel is the Leadership Institute’s Student Rights Advocate and a former member of Antifa.
Southern Oregon University has posted a statement on their Facebook page and issued the following statement to NewsWatch 12.
“SOU strongly supports the First Amendment. It would be unconstitutional for SOU, a state university, to block a speech or discussion on campus because we oppose the perspective of the speaker. SOU supports and adheres to the First Amendment principle that enables protestors in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Chicago, Portland and everywhere else in this country to speak out. The university would jeopardize those protesters’ free speech rights if it were to shut down an alt-right speech event, because others would use SOU’s actions to justify barring legitimate protest. We may consider alt-right speech to be abhorrent but it is still protected by the First Amendment, so long as it is confined to speech activity. Should anyone's conduct cross over to hate crimes, the university would stand ready to intervene.”
One student tells NewsWatch 12 they fear this event will turn hateful and could incite other hate-filled movements and events in the future.
“I'm not concerned, personally, because this is a zoom event and you do have to sign up for it. I'm more concerned about the after affects that are going to happen if they see ‘Oh, I can have this event. How much further can I push it?’,” said Michea Bonilla, a student as SOU.
Bonilla says his concern only grows in light of recent vandalism that’s been reported on SOU’s campus.
“With the events that have been happening last term and this term on campus, with the rise in hate speech the rise in racist speech; one of our RA’s who had the N-word scribbled on her door, the swastika is that’s been carved into an elevator on campus,” said Bonilla.
The President of College Republicans at SOU tells NewsWatch 12 he doesn’t expect the event to turn hateful.
“I think its really important to have a dialogue about issues,” said Gabriel Braet, President of College Republicans at SOU.
Braet says Nadales was asked to speak because of his background.
“This person has been a part of Antifa so he understands the reason for why people want to be a part of it. I don’t see why he would say anything that’s necessarily hateful but again you know that would be his prerogative and if he says something that I disagree with I’m fine with calling that out,” said Braet.
Addressing recent protests throughout the nation and President Trump's recent comments regarding Antifa, Braet said the event has grown in relevance, “coincidentally, it seems to be more of an issue now than it was when we started planning this," said Braet.
On SOU’s web page where the event is posted there is a paragraph that reads, “Southern Oregon University actively promotes freedom of expression and encourages civil dialogue throughout the educational process, even if the resulting speech expresses views that may contradict our university values. SOU does not necessarily endorse the views expressed in student-sponsored events or activities but is committed to providing an environment where all are provided an equal opportunity to learn, succeed, and explore.”
The event is scheduled for tomorrow. Participants must register.