Fallout over chalked pro Trump slogans at Emory continues. Alums enter fray.

The national dust-up over how Emory University students reacted to pro Donald Trump comments written in chalk on their campus last week shows no sign of clearing.

The lament of 40 or so students that the slew of Trump 2016 slogans made them feel unsafe feeds into the popular narrative that young people today are coddled simps. That's been the central theme to all the derision heaped on the students.

But now the criticism is extending to how the university itself responded.

The AJC reports today:

Wagner did his writing after another student group called Young Americans for Liberty and a group of Emory alumni began pushing for Emory to support free speech rights on campus and even lift some restrictions on speech that YAL call “restrictive.” The alum have started a Facebook page, which you can read here.

How Emory has changed. Once a world-renowned university that attracted scholars from across the globe, a university that encouraged diverse intellectual pursuits, Emory has apparently become a day-care where children must be shielded from “bad thoughts” lest their feelings be harmed. And the administration has officially endorsed this shift.

We are writing not to highlight the absurdity of those who believe they are physically harmed by encountering political speech with which they disagree, as this is, or should be, clear to any observer. Instead, we are writing to express our disappointment with the recent actions of the Emory administration. For the first time, we are embarrassed to call ourselves Emory graduates.

As The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Washington Post and other media outlets recently reported, a small contingent of vocal Emory students claimed to have been harmed on campus and stormed the office of the president of the university in protest. The locus of this alleged harm?

Chalked political slogans featuring the name of a leading presidential candidate. What should have become an opportune teaching moment to instruct students in the value of free speech and healthy debate, once radical ideas that serve as the foundation of American society, morphed into  something else entirely.

President Wagner, and by virtue of his position, Emory itself, officially endorsed the opposite: the rights of all to freely express their political views must give way in the event some believe their feelings are harmed by such speech. Indeed, as President Wagner stated in a recent campus-wide email in response to the student-led protest, it is now Emory’s policy to recognize the “calls to provide a safe environment.” Freely expressing a constitutionally protected right, in Wagner’s view, creates an unsafe environment. Let the implications sink in.

No longer does Emory University serve as a beacon of intellectual diversity attracting some of the best and brightest young adults from across the world, much as it attracted us. Instead, Emory has become just another school in the well-documented pattern of universities that have surrendered to the demands of a vocal few that emotional comfort, ideological conformity and yes, “safe environments” trump fundamental notions of free speech. Critical thinking and exposure to other opinions are unwanted. But this does not have to be how the story ends. It is vitally important that we respond to this trend by reaffirming our foundational notions of freedom.

Unfortunately, President Wagner and Emory University have thus far failed to rise to the challenge.

We call for President Wagner and the full administrative body of Emory University to publicly acknowledge the intrinsic value of free speech and the right of all to engage in spirited political debate. By letting a small cadre of overly sensitive students affect a heckler’s veto on a universal right, President Wagner and Emory University have contributed to the erosion of fundamental freedom in this country. It is incumbent on all to fight to protect free speech, especially speech that might be unpopular or viewed by some as “dangerous.” And fight we will.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.