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On student activism

| Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Student activism has been an integral part of university life for a long time, and it has pushed for important growth. Recently, student organizations have made their voices heard at the University of Missouri and Yale University.

African-American students at Missouri protested the lack of action from President Tim Wolfe against racism on campus. Yale students protested against an e-mail sent by Erika Christakas, wife of Professor Nicholas Christakas, who presides over one of Yale’s undergraduate colleges, regarding potentially offensive Halloween costumes.

In both cases, students demanded that leaders on their campuses resign for not taking a stand for their interests. Wolfe, and University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, resigned from their positions earlier this week, and Yale students want the Christakases to step down.

As concerned as I am regarding both of these groups’ issues, is forcing leaders to step down the answer? I think it’s a travesty that they are being demanded into exile for not taking action. Whatever happened to having two parties sit down, respectively converse and come to a solution? Is that not a viable option today?

In the Missouri case, African-Americans students are upset because the leaders failed to take action against a swastika drawn in dorm and constant racial slurs being used by students. According to various news sources, these students immediately resorted to demanding the resignation of the school’s leaders. I don’t disagree that racism should be an issue that these leaders tend to, but why are they violently ousting these leaders without having a calm, progressive conversation about what can be done to improve the environment for those who feel offended and unsafe? I don’t know all the facts because I’m not a Missouri student, but I’m sure Wolfe and Loftin weren’t encouraging racism or blatantly ignoring the students’ concerns. Once the football team threatened the university by refusing to play or practice, the president and chancellor had no choice but to resign without a conversation ever taking place.

I also agree with Yale student activists in that there should be a conversation about the content of the e-mail Christakas wrote. While she simply gave her opinion regarding the freedom of choice students should have when selecting costumes, there needs to be a line drawn as to what should and shouldn’t be tolerated, especially if students are intending to offend an entire group by wearing certain costumes.

But why do we have to immediately attack those who have differing views from us?

As students, we should respectively listen to what others have to say, give our side of the story and come to an agreement for what actions need to be taken to improve the university.

If you watch the student protests against Professor Christakas in a YouTube video posted by FIRE, an organization meant to defend the rights of individuals at college campuses, one student tells Christakas that if he doesn’t want to protect the safety of the campus, he should leave and take another position. She cusses and yells while students rallying around her applaud her with snaps.


Again, I’m not a student at Yale so I don’t know the entire story, but just by watching that video it’s clear that there’s a huge issue regarding the way students there are acting against campus discrimination.

As a student body, we need to react and take action against things that negatively affect our lives at our universities, but let’s not forget that our leaders are humans too. Communicate, listen, understand where everyone is coming from and come to a resolution. Trying to instantly remove everyone who opposes our views, whether presidents or students, from our institutions shouldn’t ever be considered a victory or the answer to our problems.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Manuel De Jesus

Manuel De Jesus is a junior from Chicago, Illinois. He is an American Studies major with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He is currently covering ND Volleyball, Men's Soccer and Men's Basketball.

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  • what no really

    You are right about one thing. Not knowing the entire story. Read more before you write about a topic.

    When a university president responds to concern over systemic, blatant racsim at his university by telling aggrieved students “Systematic oppression is because you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success,” it’s a pretty clear sign he’s not up to the challenge of responding to student concerns.

  • Jenna Wilson

    Thank you for this article. I think that discussion about these types of issues, especially at an educational institution, is necessary, but often overlooked.

    I will say, however, that it is a lot easier to have a calm, logical discussion when we aren’t directly part of the situation. It seems to me that in these types of situations in which individuals or groups are dehumanized to some degree and are being treated as something less than human, it is hard to imagine that authorities will listen. This is not to say that it is permissible to to react in such ways, but I think it is something to consider.

  • João Pedro Santos

    Too bad that there’s no student activism in ND. Especially when most students are much more liberal than the administration. How can students accept that there is a sentence in ND’s website saying that unmarried students who engage in consensual sexual activity can be dismissed (though that’s obviously unenforceable)? How can students accept that no condoms are provided in the UHS, making students more likely to catch STDs?

    • Punta Venyage

      “Too bad that there’s no student activism in ND.” What are you talking about? I remember having to step over people’s bodies to get to the dining hall, being woken up by marching chants of “take back tonight”, and seeing rainbow flyers everywhere.

      And you think that a Private Catholic University is obligated to facilitate your “right” to sexual pleasure? I didn’t know that it was someone else’s responsibility to make sure you don’t get an STD

      (Edit: removed LOL, because these are actually serious concerns)

      • João Pedro Santos

        I’m talking about a health center, not a church. About your last sentence, it’s my opinion that institutions should promote a healthy environment. Or would you agree if a university didn’t promote vaccination because it was against their beliefs?

        • Punta Venyage

          The observer deleted my response (which was polite, so I’m not sure why…)
          To summarize, in a way devoid of the artistic flair the prior version contained, so that I don’t get censored :
          – Vaccines and condoms are different in nature and in purpose. You also cannot get vaccines at your local 7eleven.
          – Furthermore, STDs are easily avoided by not living promiscuously.
          – Now I’m not morally prescribing sexual ethics to you if you don’t identify as catholic, but it seems silly to expect the Catholic university’s health center to facilitate certain lifestyles which go against its teaching
          – I think it’s lazy to use loose generalizations when dealing with specific concrete issues. In our case, “healthy environment” is being used as the defining thread between something like vaccines and condoms. Based solely on “health”, one could just as easily argue that some students in the campus could have better “mental health” if they knew they could get an abortion from a trusted ND UHS doctor.
          – My final points–maybe these were the ones that got deleted. :
          – What’s the motive in asking the university to provide condoms?
          – Do students seeking condoms have trouble acquiring them on their own?
          – Or is it a matter of finances and trying to help students get more
          bang for their buck………………….(just thought of this, couldn’t help myself. forgive me observer moderator)

  • Robin Yim

    I am an ND alum and a current grad student at Mizzou. And I want to shed some light. The protests against Wolfe was a last resort and by no means the first move. There have been countless times that students of color (and not just black) were trying to get the “two parties sit down, respectively converse and come to a solution.” However, this was met with refusal by the administration on numerous occasions. Furthermore, there were programs set in place throughout the university that provided for a forum to discuss issues of race and race relations. Unfortunately, these programs were cut by the administration. The administration is taking the approach of if we don’t talk about racial injustice then it doesn’t exist. These are just a couple of reasons why protesters wanted to oust key people in the administration. Unfortunately, much of this information has not been covered by the media. So please, don’t spread the ignorance.