Flyers plastered across campus urging onlookers to “stop anti-white discrimination” have sparked debate about free speech and diversity at Stony Brook University.
Appearing in Melville Library as early as Oct. 11, these flyers — along with similar ones promoting the same alt-right ideology — contained a link to a server on online chat platform Discord.
Discord allows users to create and join servers, each with their own distinct voice, text channels and moderation tools. Early visitors to the “/sbu/” server were greeted by a variety of channels dedicated to different topics, including “soc” (social), “a-anime” (anime), “fit” (fitness) and “mus” (music).
Alt-right ideology and language was used most frequently by /sbu/’s team of moderators, who bear the label “Certified Uncucked.” These users also have access to certain channels that are locked for everyone else on the server.
A great deal of the conversations on /sbu/ focus on the importance of allowing students to discuss controversial viewpoints as a means of free speech.
People have also used the server as a place to tout their own controversial ideas. There have been discussions on how “estrogenization” — the idea that society is becoming more feminine — leads to culture wars. Overt uses of racism can be seen on several occasions.
In many instances, the decorum exhibited on /sbu/ mimics that of 4chan, an online discussion board platform that has become a popular gathering place for misogynists and white nationalists.
Bigoted language is common on the server. There is a clear neo-nazi presence as well. Certain users have posted the “three parentheses,” a signal used by neo-nazis across the internet to denote a Jewish person or something related to Jewish people. The avatar of one prominent member displays Nazi uniforms.
In total, the server has 67 registered users; however, aside from the assigned moderators, it appears that most of these people are one-time users who never returned.
“Personally, I was on the server out of sheer curiosity, it was shared so often on my social media networks… I was like, I have to check this out, what it’s about,” said Fuad Faruque, a senior biology major and vice president of the Stony Brook College Republicans. “The majority of the people in the server were there because they were curious or they were against what was happening,” Faruque said, adding that many users signed on simply to combat the ideology the server was created to promote.
Despite this, with such divisive ideas being advertised on campus, Eric Olsen, assistant chief of police at the University Police Department, said he and his team are ready to take action if the situation becomes dangerous.
“Our department takes all incidents classified as hate crimes very seriously, we conduct extensive investigations and make arrests when possible,” he said. “Fostering an academic experience that is supportive and respectful of our differences and basic notions of civility is not only the responsibility of the Police Department, the entire campus bears the same responsibility in creating a community that does not tolerate a disrespectful or hateful environment and I think our university makes a great effort to do so.”
While some may see the server as potentially malicious, sophomore computer science major Jeremy Ahn disagrees. “I decided to join because I really do understand that even though there are a lot of political views that are in the fringe, I believe that there’s a lot of opinions that are being suppressed and therefore building up in strength because of this suppression,” said Ahn, a self-described libertarian who visited the server at one point.
In contrast to their suggested mission of free speech and open communication, /sbu/’s moderators keep certain channels locked, preventing all other users from seeing them. With the exception of Ahn, the regular users of the server were all unwilling to have their names published.
Joseph Pierce, an assistant professor in the department of Hispanic languages & literature, said he has used the flyers as an avenue to discuss the meaning of diversity with his classes. “A person who feels threatened by diversity, because that word means a change in power structures, might feel justified in saying ‘Diversity is a threat to my existence’, and to a certain extent they’re right,” he said. “Diversity in a sense does mean changing the power structures that allow whiteness as a category to predominate in politics and culture in the U.S.”
Even as diversity becomes a greater priority for Stony Brook’s administration, Associate Provost for Academic Success Richard Gatteau said that does not mean free speech is now at risk. “A key mission of higher education is to create and promote a marketplace of ideas, where we debate different viewpoints to gain greater understanding of critical issues facing us. Such debate, when a healthy debate, allows us to share our passion, learn different perspectives, have more informed opinions, and make better decisions,” said Gatteau. “The challenge is when free speech becomes hate speech.”
Pierce argued that white nationalists and those who have given them a platform have debased the idea of free speech. “It’s often reported on as, somehow, one of a myriad of valid viewpoints that we have to take into consideration, when in reality that viewpoint is the extermination of people of color,” he said. “When a white nationalist speaks and a person has to defend themselves, what they’re defending is not an intellectual position, it’s their very existence.”