As Farage Fox debate nears, controversy remains: campus responds with alternative events, discussion


Student groups and faculty members are organizing counter-events in protest of tonight’s debate between Nigel Farage and Vicente Fox (Photos courtesy of Wikipedia and Michael Vadon).

In their editorial published in last week’s issue of The Lafayette, student leaders of Hillel Society, Muslim Student Association (MSA), the Hispanic Society of Lafayette (HSL), Association of Black Collegians (ABC) and International Students Association (ISA) shared why they are against Lafayette sponsoring what they referred to as Nigel Farage’s “harmful speech.” Since then, there has been continued disagreement over the debate between Farage and Vincente Fox which is set to go on tonight at 7 p.m.

The debate, “Nationalism vs Globalism” is being sponsored by The Steamboat Institute and Lafayette College as part of the Lafayette Symposium. The Lafayette Symposium’s budget comes out of President Alison Byerly’s office, which is funded through the college’s budget.

Farage is the former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party who pushed for Brexit, and Fox is the former president of Mexico.

On March 19, President Alison Byerly met with student leaders about the debate and said she tried to address concerns they had when president of Hillel Gabrielle Tropp ’20 and president of MSA Ayat Husseini ’20 wrote a letter to her about them.

“I think there’s certainly still some people who are not happy about it, there are others who are looking forward to it and are interested in it. I don’t want to minimize the concerns that people have addressed, but I certainly feel that we have done the the best we could in the elements of planning to respond to the concerns that have been raised,” Byerly said.

Tropp said that Byerly made an effort to discuss their concerns.

“She…offered that the school might put some programming on to support people who are offended, hurt, etcetera, either before or after, but I don’t think anything will come of that because most people…were not showing interest,” Tropp said.

“We shouldn’t have to attend extra things because you’re bringing harmful programming to school,” she added.

More recently, Byerly met with multiple professors in regards to the debate, including anthropology and sociology professor Neha Vora.

“We expressed our concerns about a lack of transparency and faculty/student input in partnering with steamboat and choosing these particular speakers and questioned how a xenophobic speaker like Farage [aligns] with the values of the college, especially in terms of fostering an inclusive campus climate, among other similar themes,” Vora wrote in an email.

Questions have also been raised by student groups about security on campus during this event. Vice President of Campus Life and Dean of Students Annette Diorio said the college has engaged in additional security for the event, but that it is common for events of this size.

Byerly added that ticketing for the event is complete, and only members of the college and invited guests will be in attendance. Chief of Police Jim Meyer also said public safety has been paying attention to how this event went at University of Colorado Boulder earlier this week to gauge their own procedures, and at this time have no reason to believe there will be any security issues.

In the wake of much open opposition to the debate, students and faculty have also organized various alternative events to take place at that time in order to provide other “inclusive” outlets.

Tropp said after the regular Shabbat services on Friday at 5 p.m., Hillel is hosting an open community discussion as a type of “wholesome protest.”

“I’m leading a special event thats going to be a little more English [rather than Hebrew] than usual and…more focused on our values of inclusion and how we see our community, and then afterwards we’re going to have a community discussion about the values that we hold, why we hold them and…what matters to us as a community,” Tropp said.

Tropp said Hillel and other groups on campus have received support from various professors for these events or invitations to attend other events happening during the debate.

One such alternative event is called the “English Clown Night,” coordinated by engineering professor Benjamin Cohen and history department head Joshua Sanborn.

Sanborn said the night will consist of local comic Glen Tickle giving a short set in the Farinon Atrium followed by an English movie in the Limburg Theater.

“The genesis of the idea was fairly simple. Nigel Farage is a failed politician. He headed a dangerous and ugly movement, but thankfully he drove it into a ditch. In terms of ‘ideas’ that one could seriously examine, he doesn’t really have any. So it’s kind of a joke to think that a staged ‘debate’ in which two guys collect money from all of you students to bark at each other for an hour is somehow stimulating thoughtful engagement,” Sanborn wrote.
“So I thought, if the theme of the day is joking, let’s show some English clowns who are actually funny,” he added.
Sanborn said he had previously communicated his thoughts regarding the event to President Byerly both in writing and in person during faculty meetings.
Byerly also said that there is a group of student who are planning on streaming the debate from a different location on campus on Friday and fact-checking statements from both Farage and Fox.
“I believe some international affairs students are planning to gather adjacent in another space and we’re live streaming it to them so they can do live fact checking and they can do a twitter feed commenting on the debate as the debate goes on,” Byerly said.
Austin Botelho ’18, president of the ISA, is one of the students on the fact-checking team. Botelho said it is a joint team of students and faculty, and their goal is to promote evidence-based dialogue on Lafayette’s campus.
Gabrielle Tropp ’20 is a staff writer. She did not contribute writing or reporting to this article.
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly referred to the debate topic as “Nationalism vs. Globazation.” The topic is “Nationalism vs. Globalism.” The article has been corrected to reflect this.