Chalk messages in support of Donald Trump at Emory University (photo courtesy of Amelia Sims)


A controversy about presidential politics, free speech, and creating an inclusive campus environment erupted at Emory University this week, with a group of students protesting after messages supporting Donald Trump appeared on campus. Student protesters told the president of the private university in Atlanta that they felt threatened and intimidated by the pro-Trump messages — first reported by the student newspaper, the Emory Wheel. A national debate ensued.

Amelia Sims, a senior from Memphis, Tenn. majoring in classics and history, who is chair of the Emory College Republicans, offers her take on the issue.

By Amelia Sims 

Amelia Sims (photo courtesy of Amelia Sims)
Amelia Sims (photo courtesy of Amelia Sims)

Monday morning, our campus erupted in response to “Trump 2016″ chalkings written all over campus. Many students, expressing hurt, frustration, and outrage over the chalkings, marched to the president’s office with demands and grievances.

Though initially President Wagner refused to send a campus-wide response, he later felt compelled to address students in an email conceding to implement “immediate refinements to certain policy and procedural deficiencies, regular and structured opportunities for difficult dialogues, a formal process to institutionalize identification, review and [the] addressing of social justice opportunities and issues and a commitment to an annual retreat to renew our efforts.”

Wagner added that the school would review security surveillance footage near where chalk markings were placed so that perpetrators may go through the conduct violation process, according to the Emory Wheel.

Shortly after the incident, several student groups sent out a petition demanding Trump support be recognized as hate speech.

Many see President Wagner’s email as a harmless appeasement of the protesters’ demands. However, one should not underestimate the kind of precedent his response sets.

While the chalkers may have violated some parts of the vague chalking policy, the remedy for these violations is stated to be a clean-up fee, not a conduct hearing.

Additionally, the president’s statements seem to implicitly contradict support of free speech on campus. Conceding to campus loud-mouths is not a way to have respectful dialogue. Appeasing this kind of intimidation threatens to grant speech control to whoever speaks the loudest or throws the biggest tantrum.

After the first email and much negative publicity, the university responded with what appears to be damage control.

[Emory issued the following statement Thursday: “Emory University has not identified the individual(s) responsible for placing chalking graffiti in various campus locations earlier this week, and no follow-up action is planned related to the incident. It’s important to note that chalkings by students are allowed as a form of expression on the Emory campus but must be limited to certain areas and must not deface campus property–––these chalkings did not follow guidelines–––that’s the issue regarding violation of policy, not the content.”]

I agree with the protesters: Donald Trump has neither the character, temperament, nor policy knowledge to assume the presidency.

One of the chalk messages on Emory's campus (photo courtesy of Amelia Sims)One of the chalk messages on Emory’s campus (photo courtesy of Amelia Sims)

However, classifying support for a major presidential candidate as “hate speech” endangers the democracy that we hold so dear.

Universities do not exist to create insulated echo boxes, which shelter students from ideas that provoke offense or discomfort. In class, professors assign ideologically offensive texts so that students may learn to analyze and challenge these arguments.

Quelling discomforting thoughts prevents a free exchange of ideas. It fosters an environment where resentment and radicalism fester and metastasize.

Students certainly have the right to protest, but I worry about a campus environment that frequently turns to shouting and censorship to defeat offensive ideas.

When protests become increasingly dominated by trivial concerns and histrionic displays, Orwellian newspeak and thought control begin to take hold.

Feelings are important. However, bandying them about in political debates as ultimate trump cards is not only, inappropriate but also much less effective than developing cogent counter-arguments.

The atmosphere of intimidation and constant protest threatens the very mission of universities, which is to provide a forum for education and open debate of ideas.

Censoring Trump supporters is not a proper way to “love and support” fellow students, as the protesters may argue.

A mob mentality erases the opportunity for real human connection and dialogue.

This kind of insularity is what allows candidates like Trump to rise.

When we surround ourselves only with people who share our grievances, values, and opinions, we create polarized communities distanced by hate, resentment, and lack of empathy.

Changing minds requires us to listen to stories from people –especially when they may be distressing for us to hear.

I’ve met many people on my campus who have never met a Trump supporter, and cannot conceive how someone may support Trump for reasons other than bigotry and xenophobia.

How can we engage those who disagree with us if we refuse to meet them, consider them as persons, and respond to their arguments with constructive ones of our own?