Courtesy of Northwest Public Radio
Courtesy of Northwest Public Radio

What would UCR students do if a group of pro-Trump students built a large wall in order to demonstrate their support of Trump’s stance on immigration? While some might consider an act like this to be nonsensical or unlikely, this was the exact situation witnessed by students at Washington State University (WSU) on Oct. 19. The College Republicans at WSU built a 20-feet-long and 8-feet-tall wall in a central location on campus in order to demonstrate their political views. WSU administrators, including the school’s president, Kirk Schulz, defended the students’ right to free speech after the demonstration, saying, “WSU cherishes freedom of expression on its campuses. In fact, protecting the free exchange of ideas while encouraging dialogue that is constructive, respectful, and civil is one of the university’s core values.” Although the demonstration was mostly peaceful, one is still left wondering what the students’ true intentions were behind this particular demonstration of free speech.

First and foremost, building a fake border wall with the word “Trump” spray-painted on it, can hardly be called an attempt to “encourage dialogue that is constructive, respectful, and civil” but rather the opposite: It promotes dialogue that is divisive and discriminatory. Indeed, this demonstration is really an example of hate speech because it was strongly driven by prejudice discrimination and it endangered and promoted violence against a specific group of people. For those major reasons, the College Republicans at WSU should not have had the ability to put on that event and WSU should not have condoned the students’ actions.

While WSU administration believed that this type of demonstration was acceptable, there were many students who felt offended and targeted by this demonstration. One of those students was Haley Delgado, a biology student at WSU whose parents emigrated from Mexico. She observed, “They really don’t want Mexicans or diversity at WSU.” The fact that a Mexican student does not feel welcome or appreciated on the university campus that they pay tuition to attend is extremely problematic and completely shatters the idea that WSU cares about its diverse student body.

Furthermore, even professors and staff got involved in protesting against the Trump wall demonstration, some even cancelling their classes to allow students to participate. Donna Potts, an English professor at WSU, commented, “I have a lot of immigrants in my class and I want to support them … I think America’s already great and it’s great because of immigrants.” The fact that faculty at WSU disagreed with the WSU president’s stance about the Trump wall demonstration is a major indicator that WSU’s administration should reconsider what is protected under free speech on their campus.

Frankly, there were a plethora of alternatives to this form of protest that could have taken shape and been more beneficial toward achieving WSU’s goals of enabling students to share their differences and similarities between the different presidential candidates. The university could have put on a debate-style event about major topics in this year’s election, such as immigration, gun violence and health care. This would have allowed the students to freely express their ideas without having the Trump wall at a very central location on campus. Another idea is for WSU to actively promote and advertise teach-ins for both the College Democrats and the College Republicans. People who are interested in one, both or neither of these parties would be able to come and learn about the parties’ stances. Both of these alternatives foster positive thought and critical conversation, without enabling an inherently divisive display on campus and to potentially trigger and make students of color feel unsafe on their own campus.

Free speech should always be protected and encouraged, but individuals utilizing free speech should also be mindful of the weight of their words and actions because once an individual starts specifically targeting an entire group of people, without historical or factual evidence to support their statements, an individual is no longer using free speech. They are using hate speech to try to prove their points and negatively impacting entire communities of people in this country simultaneously, and that is something that is not acceptable in America.

Individuals utilizing free speech should also be mindful of the weight of their words and actions…