Students and administration respond to controversy over speaking engagement

Students and staff at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology are voicing concerns over an upcoming speaking engagement on campus featuring a controversial guest.

Posted: Sep. 12, 2018 3:51 PM
Updated: Sep. 12, 2018 11:32 PM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Controversy is stirring at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology as a student group plans to welcome a speaker to campus next week.

In a letter to the campus community on Monday obtained by News 10, President Jim Conwell wrote Young Americans for Liberty invited Nick Fuentes to speak, writing Fuentes is a "white supremacist" speaking "in connection with his opposition to immigration."

Statement from the leadership of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology:

Rose-Hulman is a close-knit campus with a rich culture of diversity and inclusiveness and a commitment to free speech and critical inquiry. One of our student organizations has invited a speaker who is on record with views on immigration, race and gender issues that are not consistent with our culture and values nor substantiated by hard data. His appearance at this non-public club meeting is not endorsed or sponsored by Rose-Hulman. At the same time, this situation provides an opportunity for students to learn about First Amendment freedoms, the responsibilities associated with those freedoms, and the importance of using critical analysis to sift through rhetoric.

Our centers for Diversity & Inclusion and Global Engagement are planning a scholarly discussion to demonstrate the powerful value of facts, analysis, and thoughtful discussion as a counter to the kind of baseless, incendiary language often used by this speaker to gain notoriety. The program will explore the facts surrounding immigration and the contributions immigrants have made to this country for generations.

Some members of our own community have disagreed with this decision to allow the speaking engagement, but the leadership of this institute feels strongly that the need to uphold the values of free speech and exposure to diverse viewpoints is central to an institution of higher learning. We believe we will emerge with our values and culture not only resoundingly reaffirmed, but also strengthened, if we do not permit ourselves to be divided by an individual who seeks to further his own agenda.

Fuentes hosts a show on YouTube called "America First." Some people feel his commentary belittles women and individuals who aren't white or Christian. On Twitter, Fuentes labels himself as a paleoconservative and a nationalist

President Conwell stated the speaking engagement was not sponsored by Rose-Hulman. "On social media and in interviews and appearances, Fuentes has espoused views that run counter to our culture and values," he wrote.

Students are sharing messages that the speaker may discourage prospective students from seeing the institute as a diverse campus with open dialogue. Chiarra Franklin, President of Rose-Hulman's chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers released a statement highlighting the importance of diversity and unique perspectives at Rose-Hulman. "We don't stand for this," Franklin told News 10 on Wednesday.

Similarly, a petition to encourage policy change at Rose-Hulman posted on the website Care2  reads, "Rose-Hulman is a campus that claims to value diversity and inclusion. Nick Fuentes is an individual who does not share these same values and has still been invited to our campus. Let's show the school administration that the student body will not be divided, and will continue to promote our core ideals of diversity and inclusion."

While there won't be further comment at this time, Rose-Hulman leadership released a statement to News 10 on Tuesday. It said in response to the developments, the centers for Diversity & Inclusion and Global Engagement on campus started planning a separate event to explore immigration and the contributions immigrants have made. Leadership also stated some campus community members disagree with the decision to allow the non-public speaking engagement to happen, “...but the leadership of this institute feels strongly that the need to uphold the values of free speech and exposure to diverse viewpoints is central to an institution of higher learning.”  

"We believe we will emerge with our values and culture not only resoundingly reaffirmed but also strengthened if we do not permit ourselves to be divided by an individual who seeks to further his own agenda," wrote leadership. Conwell added in his own statement that the program will be a counterbalance to misinformation Fuentes has spread.

The same evening Fuentes is slated to speak, retired Apollo engineer and alumnus Dick Osburn will give a presentation before a film screening at Hatfield Hall. Conwell encourages students and staff to attend Osburn's event.

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