It’s Protest Season: Ithaca
Tensions flared last month at Ithaca College when students say a prominent alumnus made racially-insensitive remarks to another speaker on a panel at a campus event describing the black student as a savage when she said she had a savage hunger for learning. I’m paraphrasing, because like the incidents at Missouri and Yale, the specific incidents are not as important as understanding they are indicative of a much larger culture prompting this reaction.
School President Tom Rochon released a statement four days later. “The college cannot prevent the use of hurtful language on campus,” the statement said.
“Such language, intentional or unintentional, exists in the world and will seep into our community. We can’t promise that the college will never host a speaker who could say something racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or otherwise disrespectful.”
The first amendment does not guarantee freedom from speech you don’t like, it guarantees the freedom of all thoughts to be expressed even if they’re unpopular. Colleges have always encouraged freedom of expression, but the trend (at least from some adults) is to silence speech and expression being heard by all if it is not liked by them.
It sounds like they know their voices can be heard. You can mock them all you want, but Missouri’s President has stepped down and the chancellor is being repositioned within the university system. Do not discount this generation. It’s disconcerting to many that those who want to ignore or deny inequity in our land will not be in power in society going forward.
Because of the success in Missouri, I feel the sentiment will spread like wildfire to campuses all across this country. Students see they have power to get things done. As always it takes a spark to get things started, and Missouri may have been it.
There was a time when racial diversity was an affirmative action discussion in persuasive argument class. Colleges have come a long way since then but still have a long way to go. I’m all for behaving like rational, respectful and educated adults. Discussion of incidents and communal decisions on what practices should be adopted or amended going forward is fine; however, there is nothing wrong for calling for an immediate firing of an employee. Learning how to work together to ensure an agreeable environment on campus must start with respect for one another from administration on down.
Certainly, the goal is to work together first to determine what is appropriate and next how to enforce it. But protest is as good a vehicle for achieving these aims as town hall and panel discussions. Racism is certainly systemic, and firing people won’t solve the entirety of the problem. It does let people know that you’re serious about solving the problem.