Thousands of students and community members attended Aggies United, an event intentionally scheduled at the same time as white supremacist Richard Spencer’s controversial lecture Tuesday night.
Organized by University President Michael Young and student leaders like Student Body President Hannah Wimberly, the event intended to promote a sense of solidarity from students and the community in the face of Spencer’s “alt-right” rhetoric. Outside Kyle Field, where the event was held, people were invited to sign a wall with expressions of unity, solidarity and kindness.
Spokeswoman for the university and vice president of marketing and communications Amy Smith said between 6,500 and 7,000 people attended.
Guests included singer Victoria Bozeman, actor and philanthropist Hill Harper, Holocaust survivor Max Glauben, artist Ben Rector and Reginald Stuckey. Wimberly and Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight and defensive end Myles Garrett also attended the event. Although thousands of tickets were reserved, attendance was lower than expected.
Communication sophomore Katelyn McCarthy said the driving force behind Aggies United was the Aggie core values.
“I think with the core values that this university holds it’s very important to embody these values and show these values and stand up for them,” McCarthy said. “I think the biggest one of those is love and to show love among these students and among this campus is the most important thing to combat this controversy. To promote that among this campus is the most important thing to hold true.”
The decision to host the event was made consciously, and Speaker of the Student Senate Joseph Hood said this was the best way to approach the situation.
“I think the response by President Young, student leaders and the university as a whole really came together in a way that I think is going to be really impressive tonight, in sending a message not only to Spencer but to the rest of this country of what’s the right way to respond,” Hood said.
College Station resident Kathy Hansen attended the event and said she appreciated the university’s intention to promote positivity despite controversy.
“It was obviously an intentional effort to give people that wanted to do something an option of doing something positive,” Hansen said. “We’re not yelling, we’re not protesting, we’re not holding signs. We’re in unity; we’re choosing something different. We are making a statement.”
Knight said at the end of the day, it is about uplifting one another and believing in people.
“I think it’s a reminder that we are one family, when you wear that Aggie ring or you’re an Aggie in general, it’s about having each other’s backs and loving people no matter where you come from, what you’ve done, where you’ve been or even where you’re going,” Knight said. “You’re supposed to believe in people.”
Defensive end Myles Garrett attended Aggies United and said it was a good way for the university to turn attention from Spencer’s speech.
“I think it was a good decision trying to take the public eye away from that kind of event,” Garrett said. “So people can channel their anger and not look at that and be negative, but coming here and coming together and having that unity.”
In between the performing acts, A&M System Chancellor John Sharp told a story of how a man saved his father’s life during World War II.
“But the interesting thing about that guy, that Hispanic guy, is he was 50 yards away. He didn’t know if my dad was white or Hispanic or black, he didn’t know if he was Muslim or Jewish or Catholic or Protestant,” Sharp said. “He just knew one thing — he was an American soldier and he was going to risk his life to save that guy’s life.”
David Isenhour, president of TAMU College Republicans said he believes the Aggies United event will have a long-term impact on the Aggie family.
“I think in the long term it’s going to bring us together,” Isenhour said. “I know a lot of different groups, the College Republicans, to speak on behalf of us, we’re looking to get more involved with our local community. I think overall we’re going to be a lot more cohesive as an aggie family.”