There is an intense controversy at Tulane University (where I began my teaching career) in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Kappa Alpha fraternity members built a wall made of sandbags with the message “Make America Great Again” and “Trump” plastered across it on their off-campus house. What is astonishing is that university groups and members have rallied to support alleged members of the football team who tore down the wall in a denial of free speech and an act of trespass.
It appears that the building of a wall is the local chapter’s annual tradition before its “Old South” formal ball. This time the students added the language as either a joke or implied support but student groups denounced the language as “filled with connotations of hate and ignorance.” Even if this were serious support for Trump, that is not hate speech. It would be pure political speech — just as students are free to support Bernie Sanders, as many do.
On the video below, student appear to be tearing down the wall and tossing the sandbags into the street as frat members object that “this is private property.” Students like Ana De Santiago seemed to miss the point of violently preventing the speech of other students because you disagree with them. She insisted that “By writing Trump in large, red letters across the ‘wall,’ . . . KA changed what was a tradition of building a wall into a tradition of constructing a border, symbolizing separation and xenophobia.” Or they could simply be supporting Trump and his view of immigration reform. I doubt seriously that De Santiago would take kindly to the frat tearing down signs in support of her presidential candidate or immigration policies.
The hypocritical position of these students reflects the growing intolerance for free speech on our campuses. These students believe that they have a right, even an obligation, to silence students with opposing views.
University spokesman Mike Strecker said frat members used Trump’s name and slogan as satire. But it really does not matter. The University should be investigating the students who engaged in a violent act to stop the speech of other students . . . whether satire or serious. Moreover, the University seemed to blame the students for engaging in free speech, saying that while it encourages the “free exchange of ideas and opinions”, the local chapter’s actions “sparked a visceral reaction in the context of a very heated and divisive political season.” That does not appear very supportive of free speech to blame the victims of an attack on free speech. Students and faculty are allowed to “spark a visceral reaction in the context of a very heated and divisive political season.” Indeed, we should want passionate debate on the candidates and their ideas. It was the students tearing down the wall who were bringing violence and intolerance to the debate. They should be the focus of the ire of the university.
What do you think?