Campus Climate Event a Missed Opportunity

Daily Editorial Board

Last week, the Paint the Bridge event sparked controversy on campus. The University of Minnesota student group College Republicans painted a mural with the words, “Build the Wall,” featured prominently — in part as a promotional statement for their student group on a panel on the Washington Avenue bridge. After much protest, President Kaler sent out two emails: The first email condemned the panel’s subsequent vandalism and promoted the idea of mutual respect, despite the diverse microcosm of opposing cultures and ideas on the University’s campus. The second email promoted a “Campus Climate” event with the purpose of starting a more formal dialogue about the issues that had sprung forth.

The purpose of the event was to host a forum for speakers from every side of the debate to voice their concerns.

About 15 minutes after the event had started, a line of nearly 200 students came to protest, chanting, “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Racism has got to go,” and encircling those in attendance at the event.

In many ways, the ensuing protest curtailed the objective of the campus climate event, which was meant to create a safe space where issues surrounding free speech could be tackled.

We think that protests are effective bringing attention to a problem. Protests were needed to get to this stage — without protesting, perhaps the issue of the perceived xenophobia and racism of the mural wouldn’t have been brought to the forefront of our campus’ dialogue. We would argue that nearly all students know that the qualms and frustrations of those who the speech offended, and that the campus climate event was a logical step to spur a conversation about these issues.

Protesting an event whose sole objective was to start a dialogue about the climate and inclusivity of campus, though, delegitimizes any commitment that many students should have shown to improving the situation.

Even Abeer Syedah, the Minnesota Student Association student body president, was at the event. Prior to the event, Abeer told students to “cause a scene.”

Throughout history, protest has been an essential and wholly democratic component to civic discourse. But, perhaps in this instance, it was counterproductive. While some may argue the event itself was a tokenistic gesture, it was an opportunity for students who feel threatened by their community to interact with administrators and think of actionable ways to support inclusion.

As a campus, we need to take every opportunity to have productive and meaningful conversations. Causing a “scene” may make it clear to administrators that students feel passionately about spurning racism and xenophobia on campus. But administrators are the ones who can translate feelings into policy — even for those who are reluctant, we ought to engage with University leaders if we wish to see change on our campus.

On Thursday, Kaler was fulfilling his end of the bargain by listening to students, retroactively. Many of those who are affected by hate speech are tired and frustrated by what seems to be a constant stonewalling by administrators — venting frustration and the rhetoric of protest are compelling responses. But perhaps it’s time to realize that it’s not enough to just demand and shout for change, it’s time we look to Abeer and our student representatives of MSA to create policy directives aimed at ensuring every student on campus feels safe and included.