Diversity debate deteriorates at the University of Minnesota DuluthA video of a flap between students representing different ideologies at the University of Minnesota Duluth earlier this month has climbed to more than 62,000 views on YouTube in four days.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
A video of a flap between students representing different ideologies at the University of Minnesota Duluth earlier this month has climbed to more than 62,000 views on YouTube in four days.
Gustavus Adolphus College student Phil Cleary was on campus outside Kirby Student Center representing Youth for Western Civilization and the Leadership Institute on Sept. 16 in observance of Constitution Day. He was handing out pocket Constitutions and was to meet with students about organizing on campus when he was approached by UMD student Blair Jordon Moses.
In the video, which Cleary says he shot using a flip camera, Moses says if Cleary threatened the UMD Multicultural Center, Moses would exercise the Second Amendment — the right to keep and bear arms.
“I just want to let you know that if you ever threaten the Multicultural Center, I will exercise it,” Moses said.
“If I ever threaten the Multicultural Center, you’ll shoot me?” Cleary responded.
“I didn’t say that,” Moses said.
Cleary, who on the footage can be heard telling Moses he was being recorded, also asked Moses if the existence of western civilization was a threat to the Multicultural Center.
“No, but your group possibly is,” Moses answered.
Youth for Western Civilization is a conservative campus youth movement dedicated to “the revival of Western civilization.” Its website denounces “radical multiculturalism” as “the governing ideology of Western universities.”
The News Tribune asked Cleary to send an unedited copy of his footage. Cleary declined, saying that the footage on YouTube was the entire video. The YouTube version is edited, with several fade-to-black effects and titles inserted, and one scene repeated twice.
During the exchange, Susana Pelayo-Woodward, UMD’s director of the Office of Cultural Diversity, approached and looked at Cleary’s materials on the table. She asked Cleary if his group was a “white supremacist group.” He said no, and she responded, “No? It looks like one.”
Pelayo-Woodward was not available for comment. Lisa Erwin, UMD’s vice chancellor for student life, said Pelayo-Woodward came outside to see what was happening after students had come to her expressing concerns about the nature of Cleary’s comments before Moses approached him.
“Students said the comments were racist in tone,” Erwin said.
Cleary denied making any racist remarks.
“I was there to hand out pocket Constitutions,” he said, noting other materials on the table included guides to free speech and a clipboard. He said Pelayo-Woodward appeared to judge him on his appearance because he has a shaved head.
“I was shocked by her passive consent,” he said, of the exchange between him and Moses. “I am not part of a white supremacist group.”
On the video, Moses said he didn’t believe in the Constitution. He made a reference to the Black Panther Party and his support of that movement, created in the 1960s as a militant revolutionary party with the original purpose of protecting blacks against police brutality and oppression.
Susan Banovetz, UMD’s director of external affairs, said Cleary’s group has the right to be on the UMD campus and express its opinions, and freedom of expression and philosophical debate is part of a university.
“They were debating,” she said. “Voices weren’t raised. I think it’s unfortunate (Moses) made a reference to the Second Amendment. We have zero tolerance for violence and regret that a student at UMD made that remark.”
She wouldn’t comment on whether Moses was sanctioned, because of privacy laws.
Moses, a junior sociology major from St. Paul, said in an interview Tuesday that the YouTube video wasn’t presented fairly because it didn’t include a significant portion of the conversation. Cleary told him he “wanted to get rid of the Multicultural Center,” Moses said, and he took that as a threat.
Moses said he doesn’t regret his comment about the Second Amendment but added that he abhors gun violence.
“Anyone, not just this young man, but anyone who threatens to tear us apart, we’re going to defend ourselves,” he said, speaking of the Multicultural Center. “(It is) the only place in a community like this where we can honestly feel safe. For someone to come in and speak out against that place, to say that it shouldn’t exist and they are against multiculturalism and diversity, it is considered, to us, hateful speech.”
Moses said other students called his attention to the Youth for Western Civilization presence on campus because he is seen as a leader in the Multicultural Center and he was president of the Black Student Association. He has since stepped down from that post temporarily, he said, to focus on the furor over the YouTube video. He said he has received numerous hate messages and death threats via Twitter and Facebook, as well as statements of support.
“I think a lot of people recognize that I was attempting to stand up for people’s lifestyles and people’s cultures,” he said.
Youth for Western Civilization is not listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks such groups, said Heidi Beirich, director of research for the center.
But it does have ties to known racist organizations, she said, and the center has “serious concerns about the group.”
“They talk about celebrating European culture, which is fine. But working with these hate groups at the same time makes you wonder if they are denigrating other cultures. It’s unfortunate to have (the group) show up on your campus given its connections.”
In a statement to faculty, staff and students on Tuesday, UMD Chancellor Lynn Black lauded the value of diverse views and opinions and said the university strongly supports the Office of Cultural Diversity and the Multicultural Center. He also said campus police received no complaints at the time of the incident.
“Because the entirety of the video recorded that day has not been shared with us, it would be imprudent to jump to conclusions about the full exchange between the parties portrayed in the edited video that has been made public,” his statement read.