Using activism in moderation following the Emory protests

| Staff Writer

As November 2016 nears, the political climate on campus is going to escalate: there may not be protests or loud political opinions now, but there will be soon. We’ve already seen protests here on a range of issues, from greater pay for adjunct faculty to more female faculty in the Physics Department. With such an active campus, we’re bound to see several politically focused events on campus within the next few months, and we must, as a community, keep a check on what that activism should look like.

Thoughtful activism is increasingly important to keep in mind due to the recent protests at Emory University. National reporters have portrayed the protests at Emory as an exaggerated response to a non-issue, writing about the protesters with disdain instead of praise. To these outlets, the students appear misguided rather than revolutionary.

Here’s the gist of what happened: on Monday, March 21, Emory’s campus was plastered with chalk writings of variations of “Trump 2016.” Quickly, students united and staged a 40 or 50 person protest that took place later that afternoon. They moved from a quad to an administrative building, according to Emory’s newspaper, The Emory Wheel. Once inside the administration building, they entered a board room where they voiced their frustrations to the university president.

The reaction from the administration is perhaps the most surprising. The university president validated the protest by sending out an email to the entire Emory community. One line from the email read, “Universities are learning communities. Learning communities must encourage freedom of expression. However, threatening speech and speech which incites lawless action is not protected under the First Amendment.”

I texted my brother, an Emory student, about the protests, and his response just about sums it up: “The whole thing is so ridiculous…Apparently, political opinions are considered hate speech at Emory.”

His last statement is exactly where the issue lies that Washington University needs to be cognizant of in the coming few months. The presidential election, and Donald Trump especially, have nearly completely blurred the lines between valid political affiliation and hurtful language that has no merit. More importantly, our inability to recognize what falls into which category leads to situations such as this protest.

When there have been images and articles comparing Trump to Adolf Hitler—whether those arguments are valid or not—it’s extremely difficult to distinguish between what disparages Trump and what disparages his policies—which are two different ideas. An individual may support Trump as the best option for the presidency but doesn’t agree with many of his policies. As much as I hate saying it, people have the right to support Trump. Protesting Trump is valid; protesting Trump supporters is not.

While this situation deals specifically with Trump, it applies to all candidates. Activism is one of the greatest tools we can use at Wash. U., but as the events at Emory have shown, misusing this tool can backfire easily. It is in our best interest to use protest and other forms of peaceful rebellion wisely. Know the limits of activism and recognize what warrants activism. I believe Wash. U. has an amazing opportunity to express our political concerns this fall, and we shouldn’t lose our voices in a lame attempt to have them heard.

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