By Lauren Grimaldi
College campuses are supposed to be a playground for each individual’s free thought and education. Lectures are designed to provoke students to think differently and open their minds to ideas that are not their own. This is the traditional idea of what it means to be a college student. But the Trump administration believes this is under attack.
In a speech to Georgetown University law students, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the first amendment and freedom of speech are being heavily policed on college campuses. He cited incidents of many speakers being shut down via protest as an example of the erosion of rights on a college campus. He’s not wrong that protests have gotten out of hand. Buildings at UC Berkeley were set on fire because Milo Yiannopoulos was invited to speak on campus. This set off a firestorm on the political right against the millennial age group they say are fully unable to accept diversity of thought or opinion.
The Attorney General is wrong to say that these acts of violence speak for students across the country. It’s a boring cliche to say that millennials are unable to understand the opinions of others. In reality, today’s young people are angry at the world for serving the interests of the few and not the majority. When offensive thought becomes mainstream, it’s vital to fight against it. From here, we begin to open dialogues and learn more with each other rather can continuing to create the bitter divide that has currently befallen us.
Protests are American in every sense. But when these protests become violent, the message falls flat. The destruction of property may seem like an efficient way to spread an idea and the anger you feel, but your point falls on deaf ears when the disparities between the two schools of thought are already so vast. In this sense, Sessions has a point that violent protest is not acceptable in this instance. But, there is reason to be frightened by what he said.
It’s no secret that the Trump administration has been one of the most controversial in the history of the United States. The danger he presents to the world is real and terrifying. So when a top official from his administration says that they will crack down on the supposed lack of freedom of speech on college campuses, one must wonder the exact contents of the speech they’re referring to. Recently, the president himself referred to people violently protesting with Confederate and Nazi flags as “some very fine people.” Meanwhile, African-American football players peacefully protesting police brutality are referred to as “sons of b****s.” The contrast between the executive branch’s reactions to these different forms of protest is stark and worth probing further into. But there is no law that says that a person has to stand for the national anthem. It’s not the president’s place to say what kinds of protests are acceptable and which are not.
When the Trump administration says they believe in free speech, it’s clear that they are only referring to speech that better serves their own interests. It would not be surprising if the administration were to lump together the violent college campus protests with the many peaceful protests that have changed the way in which we view certain topics. Likewise, it would be necessary for the administration to make a very specific distinction between protest and infringement on freedom of speech. They could easily to use this new idea to disallow even the most peaceful of protests given their proven track record of not being able to handle dissent.
When the president calls something “fake news,” it’s vital to recognize what he’s attempting to do. By undermining the media, Trump is trying to paint himself and his allies as the only source of information. He has no respect for the press because they cannot pledge their loyalty to him. In his mind, they’re his enemy, even though they are by nature neither a friend or foe. Trump wants to be only voice because then no one can hurt him or damage his image. This incredibly frightening reality needs to be recognized and fully condemned. The idea that this administration could implement a crackdown on freedom of speech is worrisome and something we must remain aware of as time goes on.
If students were to disagree with an invited speaker, they would absolutely have the right to peacefully protest in regards to the issue. This is not the way the current administration sees things. They could use their power to crack down on even the slightest of dissent against them, which would in turn, create a more dangerous society than we currently reside in today.