Throughout American University’s history, student groups of all affiliations have participated in the life of the University by hosting influential policy makers on campus.
One of the many benefits of going to a school in Washington, D.C., is the ability for students groups to bring well-known speakers and give students a chance to hear their perspective.
Unfortunately, when Gov. Jan Brewer came to American last Friday, she was met with severe disrespect. A group of students caused a disruption that put Gov. Brewer in danger and did serious harm to civility on campus.
When Gov. Brewer was answering a question on health care, students began chanting over her and started moving towards the podium, forcing Gov. Brewer to cut the event short over safety concerns.
We are thankful that Gov. Brewer took the time out of her schedule to come visit AU, and we value her contribution to a robust dialogue on campus about the important issues of the day. Dozens of students of all affiliations showed up to hear her perspective, yet a few students chose to ruin things for everyone by being destructive.
The acts by these students did not just disrespect Gov. Brewer, but also the College Republicans who put on the event and the students who came to listen respectfully to Gov. Brewer, regardless of whether they agreed with her. Most importantly, the students disrespected Public Safety officers, by lashing out at the officers for doing their jobs. To treat officers who work hard to ensure AU is a safe and vibrant community with such disrespect is unacceptable.
The members of the College Republicans support open debate and discussion on campus, and that is why we have never used or endorsed the tactics used against us last Friday. The fact that many members of the community who disagree with us have stood with us on the right to host speakers shows that this is not a partisan issue; it is a basic issue of tolerance and respect.
Sadly, some students have chosen to defend the truly radical actions of the protestors, claiming that it was because we screened questions. For the multitude of protestors, there was only one question submitted by a student outside of our group, and it was on an issue that would have been addressed if the governor had been allowed to finish answering the questions.
Regardless, we hope that AU students don’t believe that the proper response to not having your question heard is to shut down the event entirely. Additionally, none of the students complaining about screened questions made a peep when other prominent speakers this year took screened questions.
Another argument was that Gov. Brewers’ views on immigration are so extreme that she does not have a place on campus.
Many AU students might fervently disagree with Gov. Brewer, but 57 percent of Arizona citizens favor the controversial SB 1070, and Gov. Brewer’s views are in line with the mainstream of the Republican Party.
Does this mean that the College Republicans should not bring any speakers to campus who fit our values, but disagree with the prevailing campus orthodoxy? Do we really deserve to be treated unfairly because people disagree with us?
Throughout the history of classical and contemporary liberal thought, there exists a great tradition of support for open dialogue and defense of one’s opponent’s right to speak his mind. This viewpoint has received support from various figures ranging from John Stuart Mill to Thomas Jefferson, and it includes the true liberals on our own campus who have supported us over the last few days. To those who support our right to host our events and speak our minds, we thank you and applaud your courage in standing for your principles.
This is not to be construed as a general statement against protesting, which is a legitimate political tool. However, we believe that respect and basic decency call for protesting to be done in a way that allows us to continue our event.
The actions of the protesters Friday night threatened the reputation of American University; they threatened the way that potential future speakers view our campus; and, most importantly, they threatened the very fabric of civil discourse on campus.
We don’t expect everyone to agree with the policy leaders we bring to campus, but we do think everyone on campus ought to be treated with respect.
We hope that all students, faculty and University officials will join with us in calling for more respect for future guests on campus so that the College Republicans may continue to be vibrant participants in what we all know to be the most politically active campus in the country.
The American University College Republicans Executive Board