It’s been an interesting couple weeks for Emory University. After chalk messages supporting Republican frontrunner Donald Trump appeared on various walkways of the Atlanta university, a number of conservative students responded with anti-Trump protests, believing the messages represented a legitimate threat to their safety and to the state of inclusivity at their campus. University President James Wagner was forced to intervene, meeting with protestors and sending an email to all students on the values of expression and diversity of opinion.
Since the incident, this controversy has been interpreted by many news sources as a piece of a much larger puzzle: the debate on freedom of speech on college campuses.
Some say the chalk markings were a completely valid expression of political support, while others take issue with the moral implications of Trump’s proposed candidacy. Since Trump first announced his bid for the presidency, his policies have consistently been associated with racist, sexist, transphobic, xenophobic and elitist ideologies, to name a few. Naturally, the notion of supporting these types of ideals in a small and diverse community would be seen as troubling, especially to minority students who struggle with issues of social acceptance every day.
To an extent, I believe the concerns of the protesters at Emory were justified. However, I still find fault in some of the ideas and values upon which these protests were predicated – most notably, that to support a candidate is to support all of their policies and ideological standards.
A chalk message of Trump’s slogans does not mean that the writers likewise believe that America needs a wall, that Muslims should be banned from entering the country, that women who have had abortions should face legal penalties and so on, yet it has been interpreted as such. Even if the ones who wrote the chalk messages fully believed in all of Trump’s policies, it still isn’t fair to assume that such a demonstration is indicative of the community’s overall attitudes or beliefs.
As such, the movement by the protesters to denounce the chalk messages and the writers behind them not only seems unfair, but contrary to their core message of inclusivity. When we meet disagreeable ideas with flat-out rejection and calls for punishment, we only prove the legitimacy of Trump’s rhetoric.
Progress, both personal and social, cannot be made without conversation, and the willingness to participate in such conversations. Cases like Emory’s can represent more than just the perceived over-sensitivity of today’s college students; rather, they can be used as examples of the power of ideas in shaping individuals and a community.
Here at Elon and anywhere we may go, we should be prepared for difficult ideas that will often conflict with our own. No matter what is being said, people should have the freedom to speak openly and honestly.