ATLANTA, Ga. – Emory University students who felt “afraid,” “frustration,” and “fear” over pro-Donald Trump campaign chalkings that appeared on campus Monday are forcing school officials to take action.
A few dozen students held a protest in front of the Emory administration building yesterday, complete with “Stop Trump” and “Stop Hate” signs and the “antiphonal” chant “You are not listening! Come speak to us, we are in pain!” according to The Emory Wheel, a student publication.
The “pain” comes in the form of chalk drawings that appeared on campus with the ghastly slogan “Trump 2016.” The perpetrator also had the audacity to write “Accept the Inevitable: Trump 2016” on the steps near Cox Hall Bridge, junior Harpreet Singh told the news site.
“That was a bit alarming,” Singh said. “What exactly is the inevitable? Why does it have to be accepted?”
Students vented their concerns about the chalk campaign slogans in the school’s quad around 4:30 p.m. yesterday before moving into the administration building’s board room and demanding answers from university president James Wagner about why the school hadn’t yet disavowed the drawings.
“I’m supposed to feel comfortable and safe,” one student said. “But this man is being supported by students on our campus and our administration shows that they, by their silence, support it as well … I don’t deserve to be afraid at my school.”
“How can you not (disavow Trump) when Trump’s platform and his values undermine Emory’s values that I believe are diversity and inclusivity when they are obviously not (something Trump supports),” said another student tears, according to the Wheel. “Banning Muslims? How is that something Emory supports?”
Wagner listened to students’ concerns, answered several questions, and posed one of his own: “What actions should I take?”
One student demanded a campus-wide email to “decry the support for this fascist, racist candidate.”
“No, we will not,” Wagner replied, according to the Wheel.
After the conversation with students dragged on for over an hour, he relented and agreed to send an email. Emory Assistant Vice President for Community Suzanne Onorato thought the whole experience was “wonderful.”
“I think it’s wonderful that students are taking a stand for something that they’re passionate about, for something that’s so much about themselves — and we want to support that,” she said.
Wagner’s email stated “students shared with me their concern that these messages were meant to intimidate rather than merely to advocate for a particular candidate, having appeared outside of the context of a Georgia election or campus campaign activity.”
The letter continued, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
After meeting with our students, I cannot dismiss their expression of feelings and concern as motivated only by political preference or over-sensitivity. Instead, the students with whom I spoke heard a message, not about political process or candidate choice, but instead about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory’s own.
As an academic community, we must value and encourage the expression of ideas, vigorous debate, speech, dissent, and protest. At the same time, our commitment to respect, civility, and inclusion calls us to provide a safe environment that inspires and supports courageous inquiry. It is important that we recognize, listen to, and honor the concerns of these students, as well as faculty and staff who may feel similarly.
Wagner also outlined “racial justice” efforts the university is taking to make sure everyone feels save and loved and emotionally coddled for college. He told the protesting students officials will review surveillance video to try track down the pro-Trump chalker, and will pursue criminal or academic charges if possible.
The Wheel later issued an editorial on students’ concerns with the Trump 2016 chalkings, and pointed out the obvious problem with their effort to label it hate speech.
The op-ed read:
I was proud to be an Emory student when I saw students protesting on the Quad and voicing their concerns regarding their mental and physical safety on campus.
But the very idea that allowed students to speak up — especially those who felt attacked by the Trump chalkings — is under siege by those very same student protesters. The legendary U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” and this holds true here. Institutionally prohibiting an ignorant, hurtful or violent idea does not destroy it; it allows the idea to grow and worsen in the shadows, far from the moderating effects of public scrutiny. The best way to destroy an idea is to confront it. …
It is nonetheless necessary to ask those protesters what would happen should the tables be turned. Suppose we had a different administration. Suppose it was ruled that protests, such as the one on Tuesday, made Trump supporters feel threatened on campus. Freedom of speech works both ways, and its hindrance affects both sides. It is not the role of an institution that is devoted to the critical education of its students to tell those students which opinions they are allowed to have.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution also pointed out that Wagner’s argument that the pro-Trump chalkings came outside of normal election activity is totally bogus.
Editorial writer Jim Galloway wrote in a “note to President Wagner and others on the Emory University Campus:”
Yes, Georgia’s presidential primary is over. Yet, while it might sometimes appear so, Georgia is not hermetically sealed from a discussion that continues elsewhere. Hillary Clinton has turned her head to the general election, and so has Donald Trump. Many others have as well. This is what happens when the field narrows to two likely candidates. You have an excellent political science department that will vouch for me on this.
Your “unexpected” chalker is engaging in a political debate that will continue through the first Tuesday in November. It is an important and necessary debate. Deal with it, or get thee to a monastery.