For Unity, For Image – The Motives Behind "Aggies United"

Our country is at a pivotal moment in time. With the recent election concluding with a President-elect Trump, a certain fraction of America has been re-awakened and given hope for their radical agenda. Just before the Thanksgiving holidays, the world was given witness to that radical agenda at the white supremacist, ‘alt-right’ conference held in Washington D.C.. Amongst the cries against Jews, German Nazi propaganda and salutes to a white America, stood Richard Spencer, the assumed leader of this movement. Spencer advocates for a “a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans,” which would begin with a “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” The America he envisions looks more like our past than our future, so it seems now more important than ever that our whole of society stand up against his movement.

A few days following this conference, it was announced that Spencer would speak at Texas A&M University. A day later, university spokeswoman Amy B. Smith, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Texas A&M, addressed the announcement, stressing that no invitation was extended to Spencer from the university itself. To many students, alumni and other university affiliated persons, a strongly worded press release disassociating Texas A&M from Spencer was not enough. Where was Michael K. Young, the President of Texas A&M? Why wasn’t he issuing a statement? To many people his silence and simple press release spoke volumes, as it has in many other situations when racism and inequality has been brought to the forefront of the news at Texas A&M.

Within a week of the event announcement, a petition calling for the event’s cancellation had garnered almost 10,000 signatures. Many people and organizations began to plan protests to take place at Spencer’s event. Still no response from President Young. Then Tuesday, an entire week after the announcement, President Young came out from the shadows, this time with an announcement of his own. As a counter response to the Spencer event, Texas A&M would hold a “unity” event entitled “Aggies United.” He encouraged the students, faculty, staff and members of the Bryan/College Station community to “express their commitment to unity” by attending this event where live entertainment and speakers would be present before the traditional Silver Taps in Academic Plaza.

On the surface “Aggies United” seems like a good response to the hate and bigotry that will come with Spencer’s event, but is it really? What are the motives behind this event?

For Unity – Is this really the best way to show that Texas A&M is an inclusive university united together in commitment of its core values? Recently students have begun to question whether the university is doing anything to make this campus unified beyond sending emails to notify the community of “incidents.” In an interview with The Battalion, senior Laura Reid explained, “we always get a follow-up email explaining how there are just a few bad apples on campus…we just want to see [the administration] walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.” When the administration does nothing beyond emailing and scheduling “unity events,” nothing gets done. The members of the Texas A&M community deserve more firm action in the fight for unity and inclusiveness. They don't want to listen to motivational speakers and musicians ensure that A&M is a safe place. They want moments of racial tension to stop being swept under the rug. They deserve answers and actions that move the university forward, not "unity" events that keep everything stagnant. 

For Image – Is “Aggies United” for the students or for Texas A&M’s public image? In the immediate days following the announcement of Spencer’s event, people around the country expressed their outrage on social media and in personal calls to the university. They could not fathom why the university did not try to stop Spencer from speaking or why they did not immediately denounce him and his rhetoric. After a week full of anger fueled at the university, university officials respond with a “unity” event promised to “send a message to the world that the Texas A&M community is one that stands against hate.” This event seems more like an opportunity for the university to distract from the poor reaction from the event while at the same time achieving nothing in terms of diversity beyond names on a wall. There will come a point when the university has to stop ignoring that the campus has problems. They can't keep sending emails and providing live entertainment to distract from the real issues. 

Whatever the motives are for “Aggies United,” one cannot deny that it is not enough. For the students at Texas A&M, Tuesday won’t be just another day at school. They’ll be faced with the reality of a white nationalist feeling comfortable enough to speak at their university. They’ll try to unite together amid entertainment and inevitable protests. Then they’ll wake up on Wednesday and try to come to terms with what they heard and saw.