Amid Stanislaus State’s ongoing investigation into a video depicting student Nathan Damigo punching a woman in the face at protests in Berkeley earlier this month, members of the school’s student body urged administration to take action against their fellow classmate and alleged white supremacist during a rally on campus Wednesday afternoon.
The video, which has gone viral on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, shows a clash between self-described anti-fascists and white nationalists. Bottles breaking, explosives sounding off and smoke bombs sizzling through the air can be heard in the video, along with the shouts of fighting protestors and supporters of President Donald Trump. As a woman in the video seemingly anticipates her next moment of combat, Damigo can be seen punching her in the face and then darting back into the crowd.
In a statement released the day following the incident, Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn said that she has initiated an “immediate investigation” on campus to verify and confirm details of the incident.
“The university has zero tolerance for the use of violence and we will take all of the necessary legal and disciplinary measure to ensure that all students and everyone on campus have a safe and secure environment,” said Junn.
For Stanislaus State students protesting on campus Wednesday, Junn’s words were not enough. Many of them called for Damigo to be expelled, and an online petition calling for his expulsion has amassed more than 300 signatures. Those who have signed the petition claim they do not feel comfortable on campus “due to the administration’s response to white supremacist Nathan (Damigo). In order to help me feel safe being on campus at California State University, Stanislaus, I demand administration engage, collaborate and foster dialogue with students and community members.”
Graduate student Jennifer Morales, who organized the rally, stated that Junn’s actions following the incident are disheartening and that the president did little to ease students’ minds during an incident on campus involving Damigo which took place last October.
Damigo, a 30-year-old former Marine corporal, is also the founder of a white nationalist group called Identity Evropa, which propagates white supremacist messages at college campuses throughout the nation through fliers with slogans like “Let’s Become Great Again” and “Protect Your Heritage.” The fliers were posted around Stanislaus State last October, causing concern among students.
“(Junn) did not denounce or verify the very serious comments posed by the fliers,” said Morales.
Instead, said Morales, Junn had the fliers removed after it was found they did not comply with the university’s policy, but also stated that the university could not withdraw or suppress the viewpoints of others.
“These were the first words given to the students on our campus, where over 50 percent of the student population is Latino,” said Morales. “How is this promoting inclusivity or making students feel as if administration has their best interests at heart?”
Junn, who was in attendance at the rally, said she is doing all she can to help promote inclusivity and diversity on campus. She is currently working to develop a new President’s Commission for Diversity and Inclusion, which aims to help create and implement a series of campus programs that promote a diverse campus culture.
“As the school’s newest president, that’s a core value for me,” said Junn.
She was glad to attend the rally, which took place at the university’s free speech rock, but cautioned that many protesting at the event may be confused about what actually constitutes hate speech — a label students have used to define Damigo’s views.
“Speech that is offensive does not necessarily cross the line into hate speech,” said Junn. “Hate speech can be persecuted by law enforcement, and if it doesn’t reach that point it qualifies as free speech. A lot of things that people say can be seen as hate speech, but it actually doesn’t meet the legal definition.”
As Junn discussed hate speech versus free speech, students chanting, “If racism is what you preach, you can’t hide behind free speech!” could be heard behind her.
Junn did not give an update on the university’s investigation into the video of Damigo, but stated that the school’s next step moving forward would be to continue promoting diversity and inclusion on campus.
“I want to work with my students, and I am glad that they are interested in speaking up because they are a part of building this new culture,” said Junn.