Last weekend was Days on Campus, and the campus movement No Red Tape took advantage of the heightened publicity to hand out fliers to pre-frosh. Chief Staff Writer Julia Goodman brings you her opinion on the pseudo-protest and student body reaction to it.
This weekend, during the first Days on Campus, protestors from No Red Tape Columbia handed out fliers outside the activity fair in Lerner. Judging by Bwog commenters, at least, reactions have been mixed. They have ranged from “This is a great move to get to the administration” to “[Days on Campus] is fucking sacred territory.” Most people I’ve talked to fall somewhere in between, supportive of the protestors’ right to free speech, but doubtful as to whether this is a good time to speak out. I not only believe No Red Tape has the right to protest, I think it’s actually a good thing that they’re doing so now, and I hope that the rest of the student body will support them as strongly as they deserve.
This time two years ago, when I was deciding where to go to college, I spent a weekend visiting schools I was seriously considering. I went to Dartmouth first, and one memorable part of my visit was a protest on campus called “Occupy Dartmouth.” Although they were camped out in a tent, and a lot of their demands were financial, there was also a definite separation from the larger Occupy movement. They were handing out fliers that outlined some of the problems this group of students had with Dartmouth’s frat culture and the administration’s attitude towards cases of sexual assault.
I’ll be honest: that protest was a major reason I chose not to attend Dartmouth. But it had nothing to do with the protestors. Actually, it was the way other students responded to the protestors that bothered me. When one of my hosts led us past the group handing out fliers, she said something like, “Oh, ignore them. They’re just trying to stir up trouble.” Another student I met described the protests as “rude” and “stupid.” Our tour guides were consistently dismissive, physically blocking protestors by standing in front of them, trying to rush prospective students past the protestors before they could talk to us, and waylaying parents with phrases like “Don’t worry about that, let me tell you about this instead….”
I don’t want to insult Dartmouth, and I’m sure many students handled the situation appropriately. But I didn’t feel like most people cared about protecting the protestors or making sure they felt safe. Instead, they were focused on the fact that the protestors were an annoyance to other students and the administration. In fairness, Dartmouth wasn’t the right place for me for a lot of reasons. But that protest was one of the few places on campus that I felt comfortable, and it was unwelcoming to know that the rest of the student body had such a low opinion of these activists—not just their views, but their right to protest at all.
Judging by the escalated protests the following year, not to mention what just happened on Dartmouth’s campus, it’s not just my perception that protestors at Dartmouth are being treated unfairly. Their sit-in at Dartmouth President Hanlon’s office is an escalation in tactics that makes sense if they are being overlooked. Compare his response to students: “…meaningful change is hard work. Progress cannot be achieved through threats and demands. Disrupting the work of others is counterproductive,” with PrezBo’s email to us last night: “Public forums provide a critically important means of educating ourselves about issues such as sexual assault and help to galvanize the community for taking action. These should continue, in a variety of forms and contexts….”
While admittedly, Columbia students have not yet occupied PrezBo’s office, it is telling that Hanlon attempts to reduce the student protest to “threats and demands,” and worries not about sexual assault on campus (the words “sexual assault” are not even mentioned in the email), but about the “disrupt[ion]” to his “work.” In that context, I can only hope that the rest of the Dartmouth student body’s support for the protestors has grown since I visited. And given that Columbia’s administration has still, to some extent, been trying to censor No Red Tape protests from prospective students, I hope that our student body will also prove more supportive than my tour guide at Dartmouth two years ago.
The Columbia presenting itself right now is Columbia at its best; it is a version consciously curated by those who most strongly support its policies. Another version of Columbia involves the opinions of people who disagree with those policies. It’s rare to see students who would rather leave Columbia than try to help fix it, and that denotes an enormous amount of care for the school and its students. I hope that the prospective students who choose to come here will do so not in spite of No Red Tape, but because of it—because they have positive interactions with protestors and see the amount of support our student body is willing to give them. No, I don’t believe Days on Campus is “sacred territory”—but student activism is. If we refuse to support these protests out of fear they are alienating prospective students, we may only achieve the counterproductive end of turning away those who would be happy to join an inclusive, engaged, and self-aware campus.
Victorious red tape-defeater via Shutterstock