A few weeks ago, a group of politically conservative students wrote messages in chalk all over campus stating their political beliefs. The messages included things like “big gov sucks,” “make America great again” and “build the wall.”
Why didn’t the student body seem to know about this you ask? The university had been notified about the messages and had them washed away very early in the morning, before most students were awake and heading to class.
While I myself am not Republican, I find this mildly disturbing on Wittenberg’s end.
One of the statements, that can be found on Wittenberg’s “Mission and Values” page, reads, “Intellectual inquiry is enhanced by the thoughtful participation of diverse peoples with diverse perspectives.” In a nutshell, this statement is saying that students will have a better intellectual experience at Wittenberg through the interaction with and understanding of diverse people and their diverse thoughts.
On an overwhelmingly liberal campus, that often promotes liberal ideals and values, Republican views and values certainly offer a level of diversity of thought and perspective to this campus.
With that, is it not hypocritical of Wittenberg to prevent these Republican students from voicing their beliefs instead of allowing them to freely express themselves?
A post from KnowMyRights.org on this topic states: “Most private, secular colleges and universities (and a vast number of private church-affiliated campuses) once prided themselves, however, on being special havens for free expression — religious, political, and cultural.”
A few sentences later, the article turns around to say, “Unfortunately, that circumstance has changed. Even some of America’s most elite private, secular, and liberal arts colleges and universities are centers of censorship and repression.”
As a private university, Wittenberg has the right to interrupt our (as a student body) freedom of speech. So, while Witt does have the right to remove those chalked messages, and can if they want to, they then shouldn’t claim that they foster diversity of thought when that isn’t the case here.
To play the devil’s advocate to my own argument, I realize that the messages written by these conservative students might have been offensive to some students or made them feel uncomfortable but, Witt has hosted plenty of events that may have been equally offensive or made those conservative students uncomfortable too.
For example, after President Trump was elected, Witt held a candlelight vigil for students who felt unsafe or disheartened by the results of the election. But, why wasn’t there a celebration offered for those who were excited to see the election of Trump? What if that event was offensive or made some Republican students uncomfortable or isolated due to their political beliefs?
If Witt were to properly live up to the value previously mentioned, then they would allow students of all political backgrounds and beliefs to properly express themselves and not be hindered.
Political beliefs aside, there have been other instances to which this same reasoning can be applied. For example, I have seen many chalk messages from Cru, a Christian organization on campus, advertising their meeting times on Alumni Way. Those messages may be offensive to atheist students, and yet those messages aren’t erased.
While the messages from the conservative students were arguably more impactful on campus, as Witt tends to be more outspoken about its liberal political views than it’s Lutheran views, it was still inappropriate for the university to erase those messages, in my opinion.
I understand that there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed in regard to stating political views. There are appropriate ways to express your political beliefs that both effectively get your point across as well as respect those who have opposing views. If whether what was written in chalk crossed that line or not is up to you to decide for yourself but, I personally think the act of r e m o v ing the messages was d i s r e spectful towards those students.
T h e r e ’s nothing wrong with Witt, as a private university, being an openly liberal institution and exercising their right to interrupt our freedom of speech. But, to claim that you are open to diverse thoughts and perspectives, and then hinder those who do have those perspectives, seems hypocritical to me. There seems to be an easy solution here: don’t claim to do something that you don’t.
Witt’s existing culture cultivates creativity, intellectual brilliance and expression of beliefs in countless other ways in order to create the success that we see on campus everyday. Allowing for the new ideas and values that conservative students bring to the table fosters intellectual growth, by learning and educating ourselves about the other side of the political spectrum, and respect for others.