On Monday, March 21, panic swept Emory University because someone wrote Donald Trump’s name in chalk a few times. Tearful students expressed fear for their lives: Someone backing the Republican presidential front-runner had been on their campus.
The next morning, at least 31 people were killed when Islamic State terrorists, without warning, set off bombs at the airport and a metro station in Brussels.
You might think the real violence by real terrorists inflicting real death and destruction would force the Emory students to face reality: “Trump 2016” and “Accept the Inevitable” are just words; no matter how frightening you find their potential consequences, they pose no threat of physical danger.
They aren’t bombs killing innocent people.
To pretend otherwise, to whine and demand attention because your feelings are hurt while people are cleaning up blood and body parts 4,400 miles away, is beyond an expression of entitlement and privilege; it’s pathological.
To be fair, according to The Emory Wheel, the student newspaper, only about 40 of some 14,000 students swarmed into the university administration building to demand action: denunciation of Trump; a manhunt for the mad chalker; and, while they were at it, more diversity in hiring.
It would be easy to dismiss the whole mess as a few activist types with nothing better to do — a protester is going to protest — except for the response from Emory President James Wagner and the student government.
Wagner, who is retiring and thus has the freedom to say and do what is right, unlike peers who have cowered in the face of minority student protests the past two years, sent out a universitywide email Tuesday, March 22, to appease the protesters. It included a statement that the chalk art represented values that clash with Emory’s.
The College Council and Student Government Association sent their own email, declaring their solidarity with students who have felt a lack of safety, according to the Wheel.
Remember, those email statements came after the Brussels bombings. But the continued unease on campus the rest of the week indicates a shocking lack of awareness among intelligent people at one of this nation’s elite universities about the meaning of safety and the true security afforded all of us by the First Amendment’s protection of free speech — political speech above all.
It’s a lesson Emory seems to be widely failing to teach. The same student government organizations that expressed concern about students feeling unsafe in the face of chalk also this semester revoked the 2-month-old charter of Emory’s J Street U chapter.
The dispute is at best a bureaucratic snafu but has the stench of an effort to stop or slow down a group for its political positions.
(At least one Emory student gets it: Wheel Editor-in-Chief Zak Hudak wrote a column expressing support for free speech on all sides. “If we shut down the opposition,” he wrote, “we lose our purpose as a university.”)
I’m not a big fan of J Street. I’m not a big fan of Donald Trump’s. I am a big fan of a free society in which the supporters of both can express their opinions and have them judged in the bright light of the marketplace of ideas.
Hysteria and efforts to silence views we don’t like undermine the quest for safe spaces such efforts are said to support, and they produce the kind of society where bombings are accepted as the new normal.