As anyone who has spent five seconds at a college can attest, sidewalks covered in chalk messages are a pretty common fixture of the campus scene. But Emory University students had their delicate worldview shaken by the sudden appearance of one specific chalk message, "Trump 2016," all over campus.
The students were so traumatized that they stormed the offices of Emory President James Wagner, demanding answers and feelings-protection. Wagner sent an email to campus in a desperate and wildly unnecessary effort to make everyone feel safe again. Here is the whole thing, with commentary:
Dear Emory Community,
Yesterday I received a visit from 40 to 50 student protesters upset by the unexpected chalkings on campus sidewalks and some buildings yesterday morning, in this case referencing Donald Trump. The 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. During our conversation, they voiced their genuine concern and pain in the face of this perceived intimidation.
The election in Georgia may be over, but it is very much the case that there is still an ongoing national conversation about who the Republican Party nominee will be, and, ultimately, who will win the White House. Trump is one such contender. It's not remotely clear—nor even plausible—that the message "Trump 2016" was non-political in tone (and it shouldn't matter). Students who voiced "genuine concern and pain in the face of this "perceived intimidation" should have been told their perception is at odds with reality, does not supersede other people's free expression rights, and should be recalibrated if "Trump 2016" causes them actual pain. Sadly, this is not what the president told them.
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.
It should be perfectly acceptable to challenge "values regarding diversity," even if these values are deeply held by both students and the institution itself.
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.
If the institution rushes to the emotional defense of thin-skinned students, can it really be said to support "courageous inquiry"?
On the heels of work begun by students last fall and advanced last month through the Racial Justice Retreat and subsequent working groups, Emory is taking a number of significant steps:
• Immediate refinements to certain policy and procedural deficiencies (for example, our bias incident reporting and response process);
• Regular and structured opportunities for difficult dialogues (like the Transforming Community Project of several years ago);
• A formal process to institutionalize identification, review, and addressing of social justice opportunities and issues; and
• Commitment to an annual retreat to renew our efforts.
Reminding students that they can sic the campus grievance bureaucracy on people who offend them further weakens Emory's stated commitment to free speech.
To keep moving forward, we must continue to engage in rich and meaningful dialogue around critical issues facing our nation and our society. I learn from every conversation like the one that took place yesterday and know that further conversations are necessary. More than that, such discussions should lead to action that continues to foster a more just and inclusive Emory.
To recap: Some Emory students are so fragile, and terrified of innocuous political speech they dislike, that they immediately sought comfort from campus authority figures. These figures, of course, were more than willing to coddle them.
It's enough to make you want to grab a piece of chalk and scrawl "Trump 2016" on an Emory sidewalk, huh? No wonder so many non-liberal students are cheering for Trump—not because they like him, but because he represents glorious resistance to the noxious political correctness and censorship that has come to define the modern college experience.
Photo Credit: Trump