Editorial: We need discussion, not intimidation

Gage Counts, [email protected]

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The anti-racism protests sweeping college campuses around the nation — and the coverage of them — are very important to think about because they reveal so much about the state of higher education today.

For those who might be unaware of what is happening, there have been a series of protests at various universities across the nation — Loyola being one of them — which aim to eliminate racism in college. The bulk of the protests began at the University of Missouri due to building racial tension there.

Throughout the month of October, students repeatedly confronted university president Tim Wolfe about what they perceived as systemic racism on campus, and they were repeatedly dismissed.

In a place that’s less than 100 miles away from Ferguson, where there are very clearly race issues, there were a group of people on campus who were trying to talk about how they felt like their lives were less important and their voices weren’t being heard. The president refused to meaningfully engage with them until the very end.

No one claims that Wolfe yelled racial slurs at black students, or that he drew a swastika made of feces on a residence hall wall. The sticking point for many is that he ignored some nine percent of students when they tried to bring up an issue that was important
to them.

In one instance where Wolfe did respond to protestors, he was asked what he thought systematic oppression was. His response? “Systematic oppression is because you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success.” This quote is revealing because he acknowledges the existence of systematic oppression, and then blames it on the victims of that oppression.

One can argue that the claims of racism were over exaggerated, but that was never the position of Mizzou administrators. They acknowledged, on different occasions, racist acts, but didn’t act to change that state of affairs. It could be because they didn’t sincerely understand what was going on, they didn’t see racial equality as a priority or didn’t know how to respond to it.

Regardless of which is true, the University of Missouri system is charged to “create a positive learning environment that enables students to achieve their full academic potential,” accoring to Mizzou’s Office of the President webpage. Since the president provides the leadership, vision and direction of the university, he is responsible for creating that positive environment.

Mizzou didn’t meet that obligation. They failed their students, and they should be held responsible
for that.

Understanding that this is a sensitive and deeply personal issue for many, it’s important to emphasize our care in not co-opting the conversation. When we criticize different aspects of this movement, it’s not out of a desire to shut it down, but to help it improve and thrive.

There are two different criticisms of this student movement, which bring a lot of healthy insight into the discussion.

The first is that free speech is a right extended to everyone. The most well-known and blatant disregard for this principle was at Mizzou when a communications professor who was involved with the protests attempted to shut down student journalism by calling on protesters to physically remove the reporters from the protest area.

This is blatant intimidation, and it has no place at a university. It is hypocritical to exercise the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment and then attempt to prevent others from doing the same.

Also as a practical matter, press coverage is necessary to help the movement grow. As pointed out by a column in USA Today, reflecting on the role of the press in the civil rights movement, “Those who marched and protested were the heroes of the movement, but it was national coverage of their brave acts that helped turn the tide.”

The first exposure that most people got to the protests was of intimidation. This has colored how people discuss the movement in a very negative way. Instead of talking about systemic racism, people are talking about the hypocrisy of some individuals in these protests. To avoid this, we should stop that hypocrisy from happening and criticise it when it does.

The second criticism, which isn’t unrelated to the first, is about the tendency in this movement to prefer a safe space to an intellectual space.

College is designed to challenge our assumptions and prepare us for the outside world. It is not about being free from criticism.

Instead of viewing these activists as seekers of justice, many now have the perception that college students are simply coddled children who have no connection to reality, and who have nothing better to do than attend classes and complain about first world problems. When the world sees a video of a Yale student claiming that college is not about creating an intellectual space, this perception doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable.

The movement against racism should seriously consider taking these criticisms to heart. If we want to have a robust movement with broad support, we should dispel these problems instead of shying away from them.

The editorial represents the majority opinions of The Maroon’s editorial board and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Loyola University. 

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