Have Student Protests Gone Too Far?
In the past few weeks, there’s been a lot more strife and anger on college campuses. We recently wrote about the resignation of Timothy Wolfe from the University of Missouri, amidst a tremendous racism scandal. Additionally, there was a great deal of activity at Yale after a professor’s email regarding Halloween costumes enfuriated students.
But have these protests gone to far in their practice?
Recently, video has surfaced from the University of Missouri from a student journalist filming a protest (see above). In it, there student protesters are pushing the journalist and a professor even calls for “some muscle” to have the journalist forcibly removed from the event. The event was held on public property and the journalist was in no way violating any laws or restrictions regarding coverage of the protest.
Yet the student activists persisted in their harassment.
Journalists have mostly condemned #ConcernedStudents1950, and the internet has created some pretty vitriolic dialogue regarding the students and their demands as a result of this video. The protest in which the journalist was harassed, and in which he was attempted to be silenced is shameful and frankly only adds to the existing dialogue that the concerned students are nothing but spoiled brats. This viewpoint in and of itself does nothing to further the conversation, dismissing students who had real concerns.
The incident at Yale has proven to be just as bad. Professor Erika Christakis sent out an email responding to an administration email regarding Halloween costumes which asked students to think of others when choosing what to wear. In her response, Christakis questions the administrations role when it comes to students abilities to express themselves. The email was misinterpreted and seen as someone agreeing with racism rather than someone attempting to discuss freedom of speech and expression for students.
Over 500 students protested to have Christakis and her husband resign their positions and give up their masterships. Nicholas Christakis, attended the student protest in order to have a dialogue with students about free speech and the slippery slope of censorship. However it was this video from the protest that garnered the most attention:
If anything, it’s a prime example of when activism has moved to a stage where it’s no longer about creating dialogue. It’s taken the idea of the “safe space” and made it intolerable to anyone with a differing opinion or different world view. Even after the events of this video occurred, Christakis later took to his Twitter account to defend the student, and the couple invited students into their home for brunch to have a open dialogue discussing both emails and their effects.
According to reports, students who attended the brunch were spat on by protesters when leaving, and one student was even called a traitor to his race for going to the discussion. In no way did anyone’s attendance mean they agreed with what was discussed inside the house, but that didn’t matter to the protesters outside.
Equally, those who do hold opposing views have in themselves created as intolerable a space. In lieu of attempting to discuss the subjects at hand, people have taken to threads in order to doxx all the individuals involved. As a result, comment threads on websites such as Reddit are being locked, preventing any type of dialogue from either viewpoint.
When dealing with complex issues, in a world where the media and average people are still attempting to learn was is or is not okay, discussion shouldn’t be off the table, even if it’s view point you don’t agree with. These incidents only make it harder to have frank conversations in which either side could come out with a better understanding of the issues at hand. When protests become just about one opinion and reacting violently to those who might disagree, then it’s stopped being a protest and has become a toxic environment for all those involved.