I was embarrassed as a student at American University to witness the actions undertaken recently by students protesting an appearance on campus by Gov. Rick Perry, R-TX.
At two separate events, both featuring Republican governors, AU students have protested in a way that has been disrespectful and unbecoming of the University community. At the previous incident featuring Gov. Jan Brewer, R-AZ, student protesters disrespectfully screamed over the words of a sitting American governor, effectively denying her the ability to exchange views with our community.
While the protest against Gov. Perry was relatively civil, it nonetheless demonstrated a level of partisan tension that people around the country are sick and tired of seeing in our nation’s capital.
Rather than airing their legitimate political grievances in a respectful and thoughtful manner, the protesters have issued an ultimatum to their opponents.
In an article published in The Eagle, student protester Mana Aliabadi stated that the protesters will “keep coming back until you stop bringing people like that to this campus.”
To whom was Aliabadi referring? Thus far, the protesters have solely targeted events sponsored by the AU College Republicans and featuring Republican commentators. Given the protesters’ record of exclusively targeting Republicans, it would be inaccurate to portray these protests as nonpartisan.
Fighting accusations of political bias, Aliabadi stated that she and her counterparts protested Gov. Perry and Gov. Brewer “because their policies and the effects of their political actions are so fundamentally flawed against anything that we as enlightened students stand for.” While I do not question Aliabadi’s intentions, this view has not been applied equally across the political spectrum.
The central theme of the protest against Gov. Perry was in opposition to his stance on the death penalty. However, Aliabadi and her counterparts did not take this same position when an even more prominent death penalty supporter spoke on campus this year.
Former Gov. and President Bill Clinton, D-AR, delivered an acclaimed speech on campus this year, one that attracted far more student, faculty and media interest than did Governor Perry’s brief appearance. Despite governing as a supporter of the death penalty, President Clinton did not face anything close to the student outrage faced by Gov. Perry.
During his time as governor of Arkansas, President Clinton oversaw the executions of seven individuals, the first executions in the state since 1964. While president, Clinton actually expanded the use of the death penalty as punishment for federal crimes, such as for those found to be organizing large-scale drug operations and violent crimes not resulting in death.
However, as President Clinton addressed a massive audience of enthusiastic AU students, only one lone protester stood in clear opposition to event. His message was against AU’s WONK campaign, rather than a political issue. Given Aliabadi’s stated reasoning for protesting Gov. Perry, where were the protesters?
This letter is not — nor is it meant to be — an argument for or against the death penalty. It is, however, important that students expressing their views on the issue do so in a consistent and logical way that does not rely upon demagoguery.
We as a campus community must remember that our actions can have serious implications and consequences. As high school seniors receive their acceptance letter this month, what will they think of AU? We should all remember that AU has an institutional commitment to promoting inclusive communities, where individuals of all backgrounds and political orientations are welcomed.
Citing Gov. Perry and Gov. Brewer’s stances on homosexuality and immigration, the protesters believe they are justified in calling for their ouster from campus. These same individuals, as members of the AU community, should set an example of civility rather than resorting to the tactics of demagoguery.
AU, indeed all institutions of higher education, function best when they serve as a forum for a respectful exchange of ideas, perspectives and ideologies. Whether or not you agree with them, many of the protesters have articulated legitimate political stances that deserve serious consideration by both the AU and national communities. It is therefore a shame that the protesters seem so adamant to deny that same right to their opponents.
SIS, Class of 2014