Washington State University should remove the official recognition and any financial resources to the campus chapter of the College Republicans over actions of the group and its former president, a dozen Democratic legislators say.
In a letter to WSU President Kirk Schulz, 12 lawmakers from Western Washington criticized the “prominent role” of the group’s former president James Allsup during an alt-right rally that turned violent this summer in Charlottesville, Virginia. They also accuse the College Republicans of “a record of hate speech” on the WSU campus.
Allsup, who was seen in a video walking in a street in Charlottesville with a group waving Confederate flags and yelling obscenities at bystanders, resigned as president of the WSU College Republicans right after the rally. He said his resignation had been planned earlier, but the timetable was moved up.
The university has said Allsup’s behavior and language aren’t acceptable and “individuals with those beliefs are not welcome in our community.” But that’s not enough, the legislators said.
“Hateful beliefs were not only allowed a full voice on campus, creating a hostile climate for many students and staff, they were amplified by having a WSU and state sanctioned platform,” the letter said. “How can students or state employees at WSU trust that hate beliefs ‘are not welcome in our community’ when WSU continues to provide an official sanction for the platform from which hate is spread?”
Phil Weiler, vice president of marketing and communications for WSU, said Schulz was at the Vancouver campus and hadn’t seen the letter, which just arrived in the mail Tuesday.
“I’m not going to speculate on where we’re going to go on this,” Weiler said. “We need to first read the letter.”
Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, said the letter came after what he described as unsatisfactory responses from WSU administrators to inquiries about what the university was going to do to provide a safe environment for students who felt threatened by some actions of College Republicans. During the presidential campaign last year, the group erected a “wall” on campus to show support for then-candidate Donald Trump’s stand on immigration. Allsup also arranged for Milo Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart editor, to speak on campus but the event was canceled because of weather.
“The activities of the organization were designed to disparage and discourage non-white students from attending,” Pollet said.
It’s not about free speech, he added. The group can stand on the WSU campus lawn and say what it wants, but it shouldn’t get taxpayer and university resources if that includes speech designed to create a hostile environment.
The letter was circulated to all members of the House and Senate, both Democrats and Republicans, and went through some revisions. It is signed by 12 Democrats, a number Pollet, vice chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, called significant, although he added: “Would I like more? Sure.”
Not signing were any members from Eastern Washington, including the three Democrats from Spokane.
Rep. Marcus Riccelli said he understands the concerns and the intent of his colleagues who signed the letter, and is sensitive to racist actions in the area, including the vandalism at the Salish School in Spokane and anti-Semitic comments on a social media site for the local speech of a Holocaust survivor. But removing the College Republicans’ recognition and funding wouldn’t get to the “root” of the problem.
“Our college campuses are a place where we need to let ideas flow. We need to call out and stand up to hate,” he said. “We need to go engage students on campus and talk about why this is wrong.”
Allsup has resigned from his leadership position, Riccelli added: “If some Young Democrats did something, I wouldn’t want some of my Republican colleagues to say we should defund that group.”
Rep. Timm Ormsby said he didn’t have enough information to sign the letter, although he thinks the university needs to meet with legislators and answer their questions.
“Not signing onto the letter has nothing to do with the egregious actions of (Allsup) in Charlottesville,” Ormsby said. “I don’t know that I want one lone wolf’s activities to justify closing down the whole group.”
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