Sensitivity protests: What is really important?

Jake Loel, Commentary Editor


In the past few weeks, the nation has closely followed the student demonstrations rocking campuses around the country. At the University of Missouri-Columbia, University of Missouri’s flagship campus, black students have staged protests, claiming that university administration and students have denied them respect, either implicitly or explicitly, mainly because of the color of their skin.

During the protests, a video was published on Youtube showing photojournalist Tim Tai being pushed away from the center of a protest. In the video, Tai claimed he had a right under the First Amendment to photograph the event, as another student talked over him.

“Back up,” the other student said. “You lost this one, bro.”

In the video, a woman who was later identified as the director of Greek Life at the University of Missouri Janna Basler, claimed that Tai was not respecting the protestors’ need for privacy in what appears to be a public area at the university. The video also showed assistant professor of mass media Melissa Click calling for “muscle” to push another photojournalist away.

And the protests have worked. After one graduate student went on a hunger strike and many football players refused to play, the president stepped down from his post, apparently hoping to placate the students and bring the campus back to a stable position.

Later in the week, the Police Department at the University of Missouri sent an email to students, instructing them to call the police to report “hateful and/or hurtful” speech.

These protests point to a larger issue: Many minorities, mainly black people, feel that racism is still affecting their lives. This protest echoes the Ferguson riots, which responded to Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a Missouri police officer.

As I am not black, and have been to Missouri only briefly, I cannot say whether the black students at the University of Missouri are victims of systematic racism, although many accounts point to the affirmative. These students deserve respect and sensitivity. Furthermore, racism is unacceptable and against the American spirit, and discrimination and racist threats should not be tolerated anywhere in this nation, especially on college campuses.

However, the actions of these students and professors point to a troubling lack of knowledge and respect of the Constitution, a perhaps contradictory mistake on their part. Students who demonstrate or hold protests are allowed to do this because of the rights afforded them in the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law … prohibiting … the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

This is an important right for any politically conscious American. However, the First Amendment also protects the rights of journalists:

“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom … of the press.”

Any person or group of persons who feel they have been discriminated against because of race can and should protest, exercising their rights as Americans. That being said, the professor of mass media as well as the director of Greek Life, should be ashamed of their gross disrespect toward their fellow Americans.

On many college campuses throughout the country, students have been protesting “cultural insensitivity.”

“Who the f— hired you,” a student screamed at a professor in a recent video filmed at Yale University.

The professor’s crime? Defending an email his wife sent to students, which was meant to start an intellectual discussion regarding the question of whether people should criticize each others’ culturally appropriative costumes.

On the Claremont McKenna College campus, a member of the Student Government, Kris Brackman, resigned after appearing in a photo which was deemed racially insensitive by another student. The photo depicted two of Brackman’s friends wearing ponchos, sombreros, and fake moustaches. Brackman appeared to be dressed as Justin Bieber, hardly a racially insensitive costume.

At Dartmouth College, students apparently marched into the school library chanting “black lives matter,” physically and verbally abusing students. According to the Dartmouth Review, an independent newspaper circulated on the Dartmouth campus, the students pinned a female student against a wall who refused to join the protests, yelling: “F— you, you filthy white b—-.”

The students also berated people who were wearing “symbols of oppression,” like Beats by Dre brand headphones.

The happenings at Yale and Claremont McKenna may seem illogical at best to some, while the tactics at Dartmouth are not protected under the right to peacefully assemble.

This being said, let us remember that free speech, the right to peacefully assemble and freedom of the press are some of our most important and basic rights as Americans. Any attempt against this right is shameful and should worry all Americans, regardless of color, creed or political leaning.


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