The University of Nevada, Reno disagrees with the content of white supremacist messages but has no constitutional grounds to expel a student who attended a white nationalist rally over the weekend, president Marc Johnson said Monday.
UNR student Peter Cvjetanovic, 20, a graduate of North Valleys High School in Reno, attended a gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va. The photograph of him went viral, prompting calls for his expulsion as a student and firing as a student-employee. He told ThisisReno he condemned the violence in Charlottesville.
The event, “Unite the Right,” was reportedly staged to protest the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Events turned deadly when James Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio drove through a counter protest, killing one person and injuring 19. He was arrested on charges of second degree murder, malicious wounding and hit-and-run.
During a press conference Monday, which was livestreamed on Facebook by KRNV News 4 (watch below), Johnson said UNR supports opportunity and inclusion for everybody, as well as the fundamental values in the U.S. Constitution. That includes freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, he said.
“These principles don’t support any form of bigotry or hatred which were espoused by the white supremacists gathering in Charlottesville,” Johnson said. “Therefore we reject the principles that were espoused there.”
Johnson said many have asked UNR what it should do with Cvjetanovic. Some have suggested he be dismissed from school or terminated from his on-campus job.
“We have no legal or constitutional basis to expel him from studies or terminate him from employment and we will not,” Johnson said, noting Cvjetanovic has no criminal record and hasn’t caused any problems on campus.
In an interview with KTVN-TV, Cvjetanovic said there’s a difference between racism and being pro-white.
“I hope people acknowledge that being a party to the alternative right does not make me an evil Nazi, and that being pro-white right now is dangerous, and being pro-white doesn’t mean I’m anti-anyone else,” he said.
UNR police chief Adam Garcia said white supremacist activities haven’t taken hold at the university.
“My understanding is that he’s acting on his own,” Garcia said. “As far as we know, there is no movement on this campus.”
Shannon Ellis, vice president of student services, said she’s proud students have spoken out against racism in light of this event.
About 4,000 new students are scheduled to come to campus in late August for the start of the fall semester. Each will find a “welcoming, inclusive, vibrant community,” Ellis said.
“Safety is the upmost concern for all of us,” she added. “They will find this a safe place to be.”
Garcia also reiterated safety.
“If you see something, say something,” Garcia said.
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.