It is a dubious mark of merit: The University of Nevada, Reno spent the past year fighting to ensure that a self-described “white nationalist” student was able to graduate. That may sound rather anodyne — universities, after all, are supposed to take care to make sure their students get what they pay for. But in this case there was immense social pressure to do something about a student who attended a “Unite the Right” rally and inadvertently become the poster child for that deadly event due to one iconic photo of him chanting that went viral.
Protesters demonstrated, a petition was circulated, an online campaign broadcast the student’s face across worldwide social media. Still the university held. Good for them.
Higher education does not have a great streak as of late when it comes to protecting dissenting ideology. The student in question has told the press accusations he is a racist and neo-Nazi are false, and has argued he believes “all cultures and peoples — that includes their languages and their religions and their histories — are under threat with globalism, with the free exchange of peoples, that languages and peoples just die out, and I believe that the white culture in the United States is at threat in its own way. And I want to help defend that, but also as a white nationalist I hope to work with the black nationalists so that their culture is not wiped away. They’ve been on this continent for 400 years, just like whites.” He’s told reporters he went to the rally to observe and his chanting was just him getting “caught in the heat of the moment.”
Does that means he should be expelled? The mob said yes. UNR didn’t do that—and that is to their credit. “He has a right to pursue his education at a state institution,” said the school’s president. And he’s right. Whatever its systemic and situational flaws, a state education is, ideally, supposed to be wholly, almost radically egalitarian. It is supposed to be public in the most basic sense of the word. This does not mean that a white nationalist is entitled to the full slate of college offerings: the student was booted out of his fraternity after his views became widely known, and that was a perfectly acceptable (and proper) decision on the frat’s part. But state universities cannot shut the doors of education on someone just because the mob tells them to.
The University of Nevada made the right call in refusing to try and oust the student from its campus. It is always a welcome development when the mob doesn’t win. Let’s hope we see more of that in the year to come, and that the reactionary forces of hysterical censorship lose just a little more of their foothold in American higher education.
IMAGE: Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock.com