Bucky is creepy. Acapella groups have no place in dining halls or class rooms. Fried cheese curds are better than fresh cheese curds. Black lives matter. Brats aren’t very good.
While one of these statements is far less outlandish than the others, what they all share is they are all opinions of mine that might strike a sour note with a decently-sized chunk of University of Wisconsin’s student population.
Luckily, because of my right to freedom of speech, I will not be punished by any greater authority for having opinions that fall out of line with that of the majority. This would be a circumstance where the First Amendment plays a helpful role in our democracy.
What happened on Saturday at the football game was not.
For those unaware, or caught up elsewhere in the shit-storm currently hanging over our campus, a pair of buds were caught dressed up as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump lynching President Barack Obama, who was dressed in prison wear. I repeat: Two people were dressed as Donald Trump lynching President Obama at a Badger game.
Were they asked to leave the stadium? No. In response, the pair was simply asked by Camp Randall security to dress down their hateful speech and put away the noose component of their costume.
In the wake of the incident and its overwhelmingly negative reactions, UW and UWPD backed the decision not to make them leave, shrugging that while they disagreed with the message of the costume it falls under the pair’s First Amendment rights. They maintain there’s nothing more they could’ve done.
And I get it, kind of. We don’t want to set any precedents of infringing on people’s rights. But on Saturday, a precedent was actually set — or rather, a foregoing one was re-established.
At our University, white expression matters more than black lives.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank protected this act as being part of UW’s “community in which ideas and expression are exchanged freely.”
UWPD chief Sue Riesling backed Blank, saying in a tweet “exercising your 1st amendment rights doesn’t require good taste.”
exercising your 1st amendment rts doesn’t require good taste. Showin up #Badger in Obama mask & a noose around his neck is a prime example.
— Sue Riseling (@WiscChief) October 30, 2016
What these statements don’t address, however, was that this act on Saturday was not some politically-charged piece of performance art or simply an act of bad taste.
It’s a re-creation of a white man killing a black man. There’s no tact in what those two did. There’s no intent to create a dialogue about racial relations in America. It’s act of terror against non-white people at our university.
If our university wants to call that free speech, but label other incidents as hate speech, fine. But if our university holds free speech so dearly, then is it too much to ask for its administration to actually exercise its own right?
If this act does run contrary to our university’s values, as Blank stated, then why does our university never state these values in any meaningful way until incidents like these happen?
Why do we not have required tolerance classes for all incoming freshmen?
These questions currently have no answers that cast our university in a favorable light. The only conclusion to draw from situations like these is that our university has priorities higher on its list than creating an environment in which all of its students feel safe.
Free speech is important. There’s no debating that. If only we had a university courageous enough to actually exercise it to protect its students of color.