Dear Emory Community,
Over the past few days, we have been confronted with controversy, fear and demand for change surrounding the chalking of “Trump 2016” and other phrases in support of the Republican presidential nomination frontrunner. The Wheel’s Editorial Board discussed extensively the position that the paper would like to take and, as our hour of print approaches, we have realized that the discontent on campus requires more nuance and cannot be addressed as hastily as our editorial process would have required.
The Editorial Board agreed that Donald Trump is an offensive man. Publicly, he has made racist, sexist and xenophobic statements. For many students, their concern is more palpable than mine – it is a concern not merely of what will become of the country should Trump be elected, but one of what will become of their own lives. Trump has changed the game, so to speak. I was proud to be an Emory student when I saw students protesting on the Quad and voicing their concerns regarding their mental and physical safety on campus.
But the very idea that allowed students to speak up — especially those who felt attacked by the Trump chalkings — is under siege by those very same student protesters. The legendary U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” and this holds true here. Institutionally prohibiting an ignorant, hurtful or violent idea does not destroy it; it allows the idea to grow and worsen in the shadows, far from the moderating effects of public scrutiny. The best way to destroy an idea is to confront it.
I do not take lightly the fears and pains of those students who felt victimized by the “Trump 2016” chalkings around campus, and I try my best to support oppressed groups on campus. The duty of a newspaper to give a voice to the voiceless surpasses that of echoing those in power. I acknowledge again that Donald Trump is unlike any recent candidate who has lasted to this stage of a presidential election and that, for many Emory students, support of him holds a different connotation than support for Hillary Clinton or John Kasich.
It is nonetheless necessary to ask those protesters what would happen should the tables be turned. Suppose we had a different administration. Suppose it was ruled that protests, such as the one on Tuesday, made Trump supporters feel threatened on campus. Freedom of speech works both ways, and its hindrance affects both sides. It is not the role of an institution that is devoted to the critical education of its students to tell those students which opinions they are allowed to have.
I urge the Emory community to respond to me, respond to our news coverage and respond to the campus climate surrounding the chalkings and protests. I will also be holding open office hours 2 to 5 p.m. Friday, March 25, in my office on the fifth floor of the Dobbs University Center (DUC), and I encourage those who find fault with this letter to speak with or email me.
The Editorial Board will continue to move toward an official stance over the next days, but a constructive conversation over free speech at Emory can exist only with a total allowance of speech — and with a concerted effort to remain sensitive and respectful toward the opposition and its views. Protesters, protest. Chalkers, chalk. Let us not forget each side of an argument is reliant on its opposition for progress.
If we shut down the opposition, we lose our purpose as a university. We lose the courage to inquire, and we lose the ability to engage with the contention that we will encounter outside of the Emory community.