Weber State student Dems and Republicans agree talking is key in coming school year

Wednesday , August 16, 2017 - 12:00 AM3 comments

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Students and officials at Weber State University are preparing for another school year with optimism and hope.

But Chief Diversity Officer Adrienne Andrews said last weekend’s riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, prompted some faculty to reach out, concerned over the effect widely circulated photos depicting white nationalists and Nazis clashing with counter-protesters would have on the campus environment.

The Virginia event began as a white supremacist march but led to conflicts with counter-protesters. A 20-year-old is facing a murder charge, among other counts, after he was accused of driving his car into a crowd of people, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. The Washington Post reported the alleged driver was a Nazi sympathizer.

“I had somebody ask me today what my feelings are about marches like in Charlottesville and would I want to see that march happen here? No,” Andrews said. “That’s not going to make me happy, but would I say it couldn’t happen? No. I wouldn’t say no.”

Andrews said she values the right to assemble and the freedom of speech.

“It’s imperative we find a way to respond that changes the dialogue,” she said. “My hope is if we had a march here or have a volatile conversation about race in this community, we would work together to address that issue and try to figure out where the breakdown had happened.”

Last week, the Salt Lake Tribune reported racist signs were hung at the University of Utah apparently recruiting for Vanguard Utah, which, according to its Twitter account, is “standing up for the White man in the great state of Utah.”

Tuesday, Aug. 15, Weber State spokeswoman Allison Barlow Hess said in an email there haven’t been any racist Vanguard Utah flyers distributed on campus.

But Forrest Crawford, former assistant to the president for diversity and current teaching professor, said the atmosphere has changed at Weber State this fall — there’s a “level of unsureness” and an “undercurrent of tension.”

At the same time, he said, things could be much worse.

“I don’t think this community is blind,” he said. “I think this community — like a lot of other communities — has a lot of work that needs to go on, but I also think there’s been a deliberate and concerted effort to say we don’t want to be like places that are experiencing these underlying stressors.”

For the last year, the university has held six Town Hall Conversations About Race. Other events include an annual diversity conference, Martin Luther King Jr. march and holocaust remembrance.

Wednesday, Aug. 16, Andrews is also holding a faculty meeting to talk about race and the tumultuous political landscape as the school year starts. Legal counsel and other university officials will be in attendance to answer questions.

Barry Gomberg, the school’s affirmative action director, will also be at the meeting.

In an interview he said higher education institutions like Weber State have always been a marketplace for ideas. Faculty and students have the opportunity to explore beliefs that are different than the ones they hold.

“This world needs to learn how to communicate in expressing differing viewpoints,” Gomberg said. “The university provides the best opportunity to teach people how to do that.”

Gomberg has lived in Ogden for 40 years and feels Utahns are dedicated to being conflict neutral. He remembers an aryan nation group from Idaho attempting to open an office in Ogden about 25 years ago, so community members protested and demonstrated until the office eventually never came to fruition.

PARTY AFFILIATION ON CAMPUS

To be clear, people at Weber State are free to express whatever they want, as its policy bars any deliberate interference with freedom of speech in classes, performances, exhibits, displays, dissemination of information, demonstrations or with guest speakers.

Clint Yingling, 25, is the Weber State College Republicans President. He said in an interview it’s frustrating to see the “alt right” — neo-Nazis, White Nationalists and the like — attempting to slide under the umbrella of being Republican.

“You’ve got to ask yourself, what is this neo-Nazi claiming? What values are they supporting that are similar to ones in the Republican Party?” Yingling said. “What does it mean to be ‘alt right?’ It’s not necessarily the same as what being a Republican stands for.”

Yingling said his party affiliation caused people to treat him differently in the past and he’s afraid it will continue, but only if there’s a lack of conversation. For him, being a Republican is about the role of state and federal government, not race.

“It’s about having that conversation that there are nuances to everything,” Yingling said.

Weber State College Democrats President Kestin Page said many, including those in Ogden, probably thought those racist concepts belonged to a previous generation — or a Quentin Tarantino movie.

“I think for many — at least folks I’m talking to — it’s also serving as a wakeup call that there are a lot of concepts we took for granted not having a public voice but they’ve still existed,” he said. “There still have been people who held on to those views.”

Page said it’s disappointing and sad to see many of the photos from the Charolettesville riots show numerous alt right sympathizers were young white males. He suggested they might feel fear and anxiety but are expressing it in the alt right movement because of a lack of education or fear mongering.

Page said he thinks most Weber State students would agree with him when he said having a diverse group at the table is a good thing, not a detriment to the white male. 

Yingling said he hopes to realign the Republican identity with politics instead of racism and violence, while Page said he plans to be more outspoken when faced with intolerance and bigotry.

“The representations I saw in Charlottesville were completely contrary to what I feel people of my age should be expressing,” he said. 

Some in the national media, including CNN, have deemed the Charlottesville riots domestic terrorism. President Donald Trump’s Tuesday statements that there was “violence on both sides” was not a strong enough stance against the white supremacists.

“I certainly wouldn’t go as far to say he’s an out-and-out racist, but when I looked at him I saw a man struggling with the language that met the level of passion and concern with what was going on,” Crawford said.

Developing that language is something Crawford and Andrews hope Weber State can play a role in as the school year begins.

“We’re figuring out how to work with people and recognize we don’t all agree, we won’t all agree, and figure out where do we go from there,” Andrews said.

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at aburleson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB, like her on Facebook at Facebook.com/BurlesonReports or subscribe to her weekly education newsletter.

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