Jason Rowland: A campus divided

Tuesday, November 22, 2016 - 3:15pm

I’ll be honest: I think these next few years will probably be tough for people of marginalized identities. Many people in these groups, myself included, can only describe our expectations with one word: fear. Fear of the unknown, fear for our political system and, most of all, fear for my future as a young Black male in a country that more closely resembles the racist America I thought only existed in old photographs.

Luckily, I’m not alone in my despair. Roughly half of the nation awoke on the morning of Nov. 9 with a similar sense of trepidation. Here at the University of Michigan, my fears were shared by about 90 percent of the student body, and Trump’s unexpected victory was met by demonstrations across campus.

“Ninety percent of (UM students) rejected the kind of hate … that was expressed during the campaign,” University President Mark Schlissel said at one of the most publicized demonstrations, which occurred the day after the election at a vigil on the Diag. He closed his address by reminding students that “this is the way America changes … for the better.”

His statement proved to be tendentious, as conservative students came out of the woodwork to challenge his gall. Their opposition to Schlissel’s comments culminated in the creation of the #NotMyCampus campaign — an effort to condemn the ostensibly liberal attitudes of top University administrators.

When I broke this news to my parents back home, they were in disbelief. “How could anybody be offended by what he said?” they asked. And sadly, I didn’t have a response for them. After over a week of contemplating, however, I’ve finally found an answer: The offended students simply misunderstand the fundamental purpose of these anti-Trump protests.

After sifting through many of the complaints lodged by conservatives, it’s apparent that they can be split into two groups: people offended that the University is espousing supposedly “anti-Republican” ideas and people who don’t think that a public university should have any political opinions at all. 

The first group, disgruntled Republicans, is making the fatal mistake of categorizing anti-hate messages as anti-Republican. During a typical election cycle, I would agree that President Schlissel’s comments were unnecessary. But, as all of our elders can attest, this was not a normal election. Donald Trump spent the past few months hurling objectively racist and sexist insults to anyone who opposed him. Denouncing that this rhetoric is not “anti-Republican,” but instead is “pro-human decency.” If the Democratic candidate adopted Trump’s language on the campaign trail and then went on to win the national election, these protests would still be occurring. Calling out bigotry is not a partisan issue; it’s simply an issue of civility and moral integrity. Instead of viewing these protests as anti-Republican, as many campus conservatives are doing, the correct way to judge them is as demonstrations against hateful and vile language (that just happened to be espoused by a Republican). In essence, these protests, and Schlissel’s remarks, are against Donald Trump’s divisive platform, not the party he represents.

The second group, people who believe the University administrator is in the wrong simply for making any political statements, is mistaken for similar reasons. Had Schlissel come out to condemn Trump’s tax policies or his views on the Second Amendment, I would also argue that his statements were unnecessary. However, Schlissel and protesters are not reacting to the factional minutiae of Trump’s policy proposals. Their responses are a direct response to the president-elect’s hateful bombasts that target members of the University community. As a campus full of undocumented immigrants, students of color, members of the LGBTQ community and other marginalized identities, it’s the University president’s job to ensure that we’re all welcome. Had President Schlissel not confronted Trump’s schismatic rhetoric, it would have been a dereliction of duty.

As much as we’d like to believe it, racism is not dead. If anything, this election has shown that over the past few decades, little has changed. Furthermore, progress won’t be made until Americans lambaste Trump’s hateful language. However, this will never occur until people realize that rejecting hate isn’t a partisan issue, but rather, it’s a matter of doing the right thing.

Jason Rowland can be reached at jerow@umich.edu.