Hate speech, safe spaces: The College’s duty to protect and failure to follow through

After Donald Trump’s election on Nov. 8, much of the nation grieved. The country felt like the site of a crime scene. Life and vitality were drained from the tearful faces of students. Boxes of tissue lined the perimeter of Paresky. Bloodshot eyes prevented us from looking ahead towards the future. The bell rang solemnly in the gray distance and the sky cried with us that day.

Some were struck with disappointment at the system because this was the first time the democratic process had let them down. Many minority students felt an unending sense of fear for their friends, their loved ones and themselves. Some still thought they were trapped in a bad dream.

Strangers held each other for the first time, united in their collective anguish. My friends and I gathered in our common room, silently reflecting on what a Trump presidency would mean for our families. I called my parents and asked about how my little brother was doing in a school district home to many Trump supporters. As I walked down Route 2, I genuinely feared for my life in a nation that endorses hate speech and hate crimes.

It was as if we were no longer watching a tacky, mildly funny movie. We are now the cast and the country is the backdrop. Trump’s hateful threats are no longer empty, and he has the country at its knees with a red House of Representatives and Senate to back him.

Suddenly, our worst nightmares can be realized. It seems that we are living in this nightmare alone and others are merely visiting for the moment. This is the reality for a person of color and we do not get to just wake up. Minority students felt like spectacles as onlookers watched their reactions to the election, hoping to see how they would respond. Again, we are the cast in the movie; our sorrow is their entertainment and our pain is consumed like popcorn.

Following the election, the College invited two former politicians to come and speak on the election. Former governor Jennifer Granholm (D-Mich.) and former senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) were invited to speak on the presidential campaign. When inviting individuals to speak on this campus, it is important to take into consideration what they stand for before you give them a platform to influence an audience.

Brown got up on stage and spewed pseudo-Trump hate speech. He said things that reflected Trump’s mindset that illegal immigrants are raping and murdering citizens and also employed the “we need to build a wall” rhetoric. Many students in the crowd were in tears, reliving the trauma they felt from the entire election cycle. This was only two days after the election.

When I asked a faculty from the College about the purpose of providing people like Brown a platform to embolden concealed racists and traumatize minority students, I received an answer that essentially informs the disconnect between minority students and the administration. I was told, “We must take every event as a learning opportunity. In life, we will meet people that we do not agree with.”

When someone says that every event should be taken as a learning opportunity, I have to ask which demographic is actually learning and which demographic is being intellectually consumed, while onlookers gape at their emotional turmoil. Who exactly is learning?

If you think that, a day or two after the election, everyone is learning, then you are unaware of the gravity of the situation. You are not taking into consideration minority students who are now faced with a real and present danger.

Lastly, I must address the impact that the Scott Browns of the world have on this campus. Upon leaving the ’62 Center, I overheard two white male students acknowledge that they held conservative views and felt like they would be persecuted on this campus if they were vocal about them.

Translation: Brown made them feel justified in their bigotry, in a liberal space where racist views should not be tolerated.

Again I ask: Who is learning in this case? What exactly are they learning?

The administration is able to disinvite John Derbyshire, but chose to allow Brown to enter into our sanctuary, incite concealed racists and further rob minority students of  their sense of safety, security and agency.

I end on this: When minority students grieve national events, whether it be because of election results that we are personally implicated by or a shooting of an unarmed black man, it is not too much to expect that we need time to heal and process these events. We do not want the administration to compound the issue; instead, we do want genuine support and understanding. Otherwise, the College becomes a microcosm of the very oppressive structure that we are trying to combat.

Valerie Oyakhilome ’18 is a political science major and Africana studies concentrator from Lindenhurst, N.Y. She lives in Horn Hall. 

Comments (10)

  1. I don’t know. It was a pretty good night for the rest of us. I wake up each morning happy that the Supreme Court will be under conservative control, that law enforcement officials will be more honored and respected, and that the white working class finally woke up to the fact that “white privilege” ideology means that Democrats are not on their side. It was about time.

  2. This opinion piece is proof that Williams needs more conservative thought on campus, not less. Falk’s misguided cancellation has made Williams students less able to deal with their lives, less able to deal with opposing viewpoints, and less able to understand what is happening in the outside world. If students convince him to cancel speakers invited by faculty, his embrace of failure will be complete.

  3. “After Donald Trump’s election on Nov. 8, much of the nation grieved”

    No, not most but fewer than half. The cry of grief is heard mostly from Hollywood and other high density grief centers. Pull yourself together kiddo, you’re being manipulated by fearmongers.

  4. “Translation: Brown made them feel justified in their bigotry, in a liberal space where racist views should not be tolerated.”

    Lines like this, among others in this article, signal a total lack of nuance in looking at the situation of Trump being elected. I was at the talk. Brown, while acting pompous, said nothing particularly outrageous, and the students were crying before he even said anything.

    I don’t understand how Williams students so upset by Trump can ever expect to be an effective political activist if they literally break down in tears when they face even the mildest incarnation of conservative values. Let’s keep in mind that attendance at this talk was totally optional, and a majority/near-majority of Americans agree with Brown on most issues. With this in mind, if your only reaction to opposing political views is to throw around increasingly meaningless labels of “racist” and “bigot”, you’re going to get nowhere.

    Have you considered the long list of reasons that people may have chosen to vote for Trump, besides hating POC? Based on what you wrote in this article, I strongly doubt it. When you attend a liberal arts college and you have your opinion reinforced, day and night, that Trump voters are invariably racist and awful people, you lose your ability to navigate the real world, where many millions of Americans chose to vote for Trump, and, believe it or not, many can still be good people. There are single-issue voters, there are democrats entirely disenchanted by the establishment, there are people who don’t read NY times or HuffPo and don’t understand the big deal over him saying “grab them by the pussy”. This is a fact. I personally grew up in a household where my mom and her boyfriend were constantly throwing horribly crude language at each other, so that line didn’t shock me as much as the sheltered kids here at Williams.

    I don’t know. I guess I am just saying have some fortitude. I agree with you on your political views, I can almost guarantee it. I am just saying it’s horribly counterproductive and lazy to write off every Trump voter as a racist bigot. I see it over and over again at Williams and on other online liberal media sources and it’s very upsetting to me. Trump won by a small margin. If the left can find a better way to reach out to just 1% of Trump voters, we’ll be looking at four years of this mess instead of eight. Articles like this make me pessimistic, though.

    1. Dirty little secret: these deplorable “racists” who voted for Trump also voted for Obama. The ivory towers must be contemplating the alignment of racial perspective and odd number elections.

  5. Honestly a poorly-informed, insulting op-ed on this individual’s part.

  6. Intolerant, illiberal, authoritarian students want to police thought on campus under the pretext of fighting oppression.

  7. Is your skin so thin that it can be pierced by words with which you don’t agree? Or do your simply equate safe with liberal?

  8. So pathetic. Look, you lost. Get over it.

    Liberals, aided by a one-sided Falk administration, feel they have a monopoly on thought on campus. This student hears two conservatives admit in private that they are afraid to speak out, and she is offended! Give me a break.

    1 – Fire Falk.
    2 – Tell these losers to get back to work.
    3 – If you want a safe space, stay home.

    1. Falk and his coterie of authoritarians have sat in their echo chamber in Hopkins Hall as the civilized atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect crumbles around them, all the while encouraging censorship, narrow-mindedness, and disdain for half of America.

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