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Community reaction to Levasseur discussion

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Students, faculty and others packed Flavin auditorium to hear the panel discussion featuring former United Freedom Front member Pat Levasseur.  Some came in an attempt to understand the UFF’s violence protesting US acceptance of South African apartheid and funding for Nicaraguan death squads.

“The ones we disagree with most strongly are the ones who have a right to speak so we know first hand what it is they think, how they come to the positions they take,” said Tom Lindeman, a retired campus minister.  “Listening to them may also help sharpen your own beliefs about why you disagree.”

Interest in the trial’s significance- the UFF members were some of the few people charged with sedition since WWI- attracted others.  UMass doctoral student John Gibney said recent interest in the Alien and Sedition acts passed under John Adams made him come to the panel discussion.

“I thought the connection between then and now would be interesting,” he said.  “I’m here mostly to hear the lawyers talk about the case, so I can compare [sedition] now to what it was like during the Adams administration.”

Media coverage of the event failed to equally represent all opinions however.  The various Boston and Springfield affiliates reported several falsehoods, including Levasseur was a murder and  tax payer dollars funded the event.

For example, on WHDH’s 11 pm news Thursday night, Victoria Block said protestors felt “taxpayer dollars should not be used to bring a bomber and a murder to the school, nor his wife who supported him during his violent crimes.”

Ray Levasseur was never charged with murder, and UMass President Jack Wilson said “Chancellor Holub and I have instructed that no state funds be used to support this activity” according to Collegian articles prior to the event.

Lack of state and university support of the event made Lillian- who only gave her first name because she works for the University- angry.  “To Deval [Patrick] and [Wison]: stop your BS,” she said, as she believes the governor and university should have supported the panel discussion as an educational experience.  “It relates to resistance, to the Vietnam Era.  We need to learn more, we need to hear what is going on underneath what is said in the media.  I want to know firsthand from the people that are related to this case… it will be another perspective for me.  I think we all should have had a right to listen to this man and what he had to say.”

Sophmore Biology major Andrea Benjamin was also angry that she was denied an educational experience.  “This is a college campus, and a publicly funded one at that.  It seems like the last place that should be censored.”

Lindeman agreed. “Freedom of speech and academic freedom to pursue unpopular themes and try to understand them is what education is all about,” he said.  “And to try to deny people who we don’t agree with their chance to talk is absolutely contrary to what a university is all about”.  He added that this principle should extend across the ideological spectrum.

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Written by Chris Russell

November 20, 2009 at 12:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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