It's been a wild semester at the University of Minnesota. Riv-Ellen Prell's "A Campus Divided" exhibit, which focused on institutional racism and anti-Semitism at the U and the power of student activism here, brought nice white liberals down to earth with a bump. Student organizers on campus have shown that anti-racist agitation didn't end in the 1930s.
On Oct. 25, hundreds of students showed up to protest a student service fees-funded event at which Lauren Southern, a small-time alt-right mouthpiece who associates with Nazis and advocates drowning refugees, was the headline speaker. CFACT, the organizing student group, actually violated the all-access terms of that student service fee funding by hosting a closed event, and made cowardly use of the University of Minnesota police department as bouncers. But more troubling was the way the University and police treated the students outside — using chemical irritants, training guns on us and blockading West Bank buildings in riot gear — all while announcing through loudspeakers that "Violence Will Not Be Tolerated." When peaceful student protesters are maced by police and dispersed at gunpoint, whose violence are we talking about?
The next day, when the University History Department, along with other offices and departments, brought professor Robert Cohen of NYU to campus to discuss Prell's exhibit in the context of American student activism at large, student activists themselves disrupted the event. They protested that the University was paying lip service to student movements while criminalizing student activists like the members of Whose Diversity?, who the administration had arrested on June 10, 2016 for peaceful protest of tuition hikes, and terrorizing student protesters the night before. Provost Karen Hanson, who was featured in the event, argued with them about whether she had approved of the arrests, and Professor Cohen, a scholar of protest movements, seemed mystified by the idea that direct action is an essential tool of student protest. As eager as they were to lionize student activists of the 30's and 60's, they were startled by the prospect of being asked by present-day students, some hoarse from the protest of the night before, to answer for their own actions and institutions.
One more example of how students are taking leadership where the administration fails to: this week, students passed out fliers that called on the U to "Rename the Racists." They were referring to the many campus buildings named after segregationists, racists, anti-Semites and eugenicists detailed in "A Campus Divided." They prepared a Snapchat filter that read "Learning Within The Walls of White Supremacy," brilliantly using social media to spread their message.
Off campus, famous media stars and politicians have been facing allegations of sexual assault and harassment. Victims everywhere are speaking up, and it's changing the shape of our government. The University has a miserable record of protecting rapists on campus, and Coffman Memorial Union still bears that name, so it shouldn't be too shocking that a small fry like Garrison Keillor, of MPR and recently disgraced for sexual harassment fame, still stares down from a panel on the Scholar's Walk on East Bank. But it's time for him to go.
Many of us grew up loving Keillor and Sen. Al Franken, and tacitly honoring Coffman and many others of the men who stand accused today of horrible violations of others' humanity. Some of us would rather not have to think about how "Build The Wall" was smeared across the Washington Avenue Bridge last year, or how white supremacists boldly threw up Nazi salutes outside the Lauren Southern event this fall while campus police gassed student protestors — or how our favorite radio host groped women. But it's time to stop making excuses. We must, as a stranger on the internet far wiser than me wrote, sacrifice our heroes' tender necks on the altar of a better tomorrow. Take Keillor's face off campus. Rename the Racists. Stop criminalizing student activists and students of color. Abolish the UMPD. Pay student workers $15 an hour. Stop tuition hikes. Listen to multiple marginalized students. This campus is still divided and students are picking a side. Will the administration?
This letter has been lightly edited for grammar and style.
Imogen Page is a political science and global studies senior at the University of Minnesota.