Guest editorial: Drown out campus hate speech with love

The Dallas Morning News
Guest Editorial

It's sad that another round of racist banners and fliers have appeared this month on yet another Texas college campus.

This time, the hateful nonsense calling for a "white revolution" and denigrating gays, lesbians and diversity showed up at SMU. It's the kind of "fliering" tactic that the Southern Poverty Law Center says is being increasingly used by white supremacists on college campuses everywhere, including several in Texas.

That they are targeting our vulnerable young people with this vile stuff should be a concern to anyone who cares about living in a community that embraces our differences.

Still, the First Amendment protects the right to free speech and expression. We're not calling for a ban here, as disgusting as these fliers are. Rather, we call on the use of better judgment. And we urge others to speak up in unison: The answer to combat this hateful speech is to drown it out with righteous speech in opposition. The time to speak up is now.

The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that the use of fliers allows white supremacists to make noise for their groups while keeping their members in the shadows.

The center tracked 329 "fliering" incidents on 241 college campuses across the country between March 2016 and October 2017. And that number is growing. The center created a resource guide to educate students about this kind of activity — before the deadly August attack on anti-white supremacy protesters in Charlottesville, Va., that heightened sensitivities on campuses.

In SMU's case, a group called Texas Vanguard claimed responsibility for the displays and posted photos on Twitter of masked members giving Nazi salutes around campus.

Groups operating under the names Texas Vanguard, Vanguard America and American Vanguard have posted similar racist and homophobic signs at college campuses around Texas — including the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of North Texas this year. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Vanguard America as one of the leaders in the flier tactic,  which it called an integral part of the racist "alt-right" movement's recruitment efforts. So far in 2017, 32 incidents by the group have been reported on college campuses.

We understand why SMU President Gerald Turner denounced the fliers on his campus and is investigating who put them up. He condemned them as promoting an "abhorrent message that is opposite of SMU values."

No respectable college president, charged with shaping impressionable minds, wants that kind of hate to fester on campus and spiral into violence.

While institutions of higher learning have the responsibility to safeguard the right of all sorts of speakers to raise their voices, no matter how hateful their views, school leaders are also free to determine what kind of campuses they want.

We urge the members of these racist groups to stop flame-throwing from the dark and muster the courage for frank discussions with university leaders. They have a right to be heard. And to hear a clarion response from those who oppose them.

The Dallas Morning News, Dec. 14