University Of Nevada-Reno Won't Dismiss Student In Viral Charlottesville Rally Photo

Aug 24, 2017
Originally published on August 24, 2017 7:01 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We've seen the pictures of young men carrying Tiki torches in Charlottesville as they marched for white supremacy. Well, one of those men is a student at the University of Nevada in Reno. Classes begin there next week. And NPR's Leila Fadel reports tensions on campus are high.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Five, past experience of racism and prejudice on campus - six, as a community, what steps should we take moving forward?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Student Senate meetings at the University of Nevada, Reno are usually pretty empty, but this week, hundreds of students fill the seats and line up against the walls. The first thing on the agenda is to talk about Peter Cvjetanovic, the student who was pictured at the racist march in Charlottesville and the university's decision to keep him enrolled. One by one, people stand to speak.

AVORY WYATT: I'm very afraid right now. I can barely talk.

FADEL: Avory Wyatt, a Native American student.

EMMANUELA GORE: While swastikas are scrawled on our walls and our institutions are vandalized, emails are sent to subdue our anger. We are not here to...

FADEL: Emmanuela Gore, a black student.

STEVEN ZIPKIN: His right to speech is not higher than my right to exist.

(APPLAUSE)

FADEL: Steven Zipkin is a Jewish student. Many say Cvjetanovic's ideals of a white ethnostate translate into a world where students of color, Jews, Muslim and LGBTQ people would not exist. If the university doesn't kick him out, they say, it borders on complicity. But other students say Cvjetanovic, a white nationalist from the "alt-right," should stay on campus because by protecting his speech, all speech is protected.

Still, some point out the irony that the last nationally recognized person to come out of UNR is football player Colin Kaepernick, who's being shunned by the NFL after protesting police brutality against black people. For freshmen, it's an especially scary time to start college.

KATHERINE SANCHEZ: My mom - she didn't want me to come here. Why - because she saw that there is racism and hate on this campus. And she didn't want me to come because she feared for my life, my safety, my well-being. And I can't imagine what everyone else is feeling right now. But I'm feeling pretty scared. And I hope to...

FADEL: That's 17-year-old Katherine Sanchez speaking at the meeting. Afterwards, she tells me her mom was already afraid for her Latina daughter because of the atmosphere in the country. But Sanchez had convinced her that the campus was safe. Then Charlottesville happened.

SANCHEZ: If they can see this violence and this hate, and they can see the Nazi signs sprayed on buildings and hear stories of students that have experienced racism, then what kind of protection is that if they just hear those and they don't do anything about them?

FADEL: There have been other incidents, students say, incidents we've seen across the country, like swastikas scrawled in a campus building and students being called the N-word on campus. Marc Johnson is the president of UNR.

MARC JOHNSON: We had to recognize two values. One value of course - the value of diversity and inclusiveness and protection of all of our students and faculty but also the rights given to all of our individuals to free assembly and free speech.

FADEL: President Johnson says he had no legal reason to kick Peter Cvjetanovic out of school. He wasn't committing a crime. The ACLU agrees. But nearly half of incoming freshmen are students of color. Many of them are asking when is free speech hate speech, and are Cvjetanovic's rights coming at the expense of their protection? Leila Fadel, NPR News, Reno. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.