A CSUF student group invites a controversial speaker to campus.
Based on the speaker’s history at other university campuses, it was not uncommon that this appearance helped create disruptive and potentially violent situations. In response to his appearance, an alternative event was planned for the same day.
While most at the university disagreed with the speaker’s sentiments, they understood his First Amendment rights … and the rights of the student organization to invite him. And it upheld the idea of a university as a “marketplace” of ideas. Still, campus safety and the minimization of disruptions to the university’s daily operations was paramount.
For that reason, the Campus Speaker Working Group was established to analyze the situation, make plans and enlist the assistance of campus members and others to ensure the event caused a minimal amount of disruption.
This “strike team” consisted of members from across campus. Each member had the authority to act/make decisions within their area(s) of responsibility. All accepted the challenge.
Tonantzin Oseguera, associate vice president for student affairs, recalled meeting with University Police Capt. Scot Willey to help organize the group and the parameters of their charge.
“We needed to develop a plan on how the university would respond — how we would communicate with students, faculty, staff, the surrounding community. We needed to determine what our message was, gather information and provide updates to the president and cabinet,” she explained. “We had to determine if we’d close certain buildings or programs that day, and what effect that would have on the campus community.
“It wasn’t only those present on campus who would be affected,” she stressed “This speaker had a caustic message but part of our job was to help people understand the issues surrounding free speech versus hate speech, and why the campus is open to those with messages we may disagree with. We may not like the subject of a speech but the speaker had a legal right to speak at the invitation of the student group.”
“I can’t say enough about the total collaboration of this group of amazing professionals,” said Willey after the event. “In my 20 years of law enforcement, I’ve never seen this many entities become so involved in the planning of such an event, besides Commencement. Without the total collaboration from this group, the mostly peaceful result of that night might not have happened.”
In fact, the team spent four months planning for a two-hour event with meetings held weekly/daily/sometimes hourly as the event drew closer.
“Everyone from the president on down, made sure we were all on the same page,” Willey said. “I can’t mention teamwork without pointing out the fact that we had more than 275 police officers from federal, state, county and municipal police agencies who offered their unwavering support for this event. The entire County of Orange wanted to send a strong message that we support free speech and peaceful protesting. However, our campus event planning group could, and should, become the standard across the state for preplanning for these types of large events.
“In fact, there has been a lot of follow up from other cities and universities,” he added. “I spoke about the event at a Safe Campus Conference in Las Vegas to nationwide university police departments. And we are being invited to speak at other conferences in the future.”
“The teamwork and collaboration were critical — everyone came to meetings with ideas. We tried not to impact campus operations any more than necessary,” said Oseguera. “The team work of this committee … and the larger university — was what got us through. People moved on.”
Cal State Fullerton demonstrated, through the work of the committee and hundreds of volunteers, that the campus is an environment where highly charged viewpoints can be discussed and challenged civilly.
“I remember afterwards we all had colleagues from other campuses calling and asking, ‘How did you pull that off?’ I think the teamwork, the support of the administration and the help of so many who worked hard on this issue, made us successful.”
For their efforts and teamwork, the following members of the Campus Speaker Working Group were recognized with Cal State Fullerton’s 2018 Teamwork and Collaboration Award at the April 19 annual University Awards Program:
- Keya Allen, Associated Students, Inc.
- John Beisner, Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion
- Jeffrey D. Cook, Strategic Communications
- Michael Coughlin, Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion
- Michael Delo, Administration and Finance
- Jeff Fehrn, Associated Students, Inc.
- Carl Jones, Administration and Finance
- Tonantzin Oseguera, Student Affairs
- Monique Shay, President’s Office
- Vincent Vigil, Student Affairs
- Scot Willey, University Police