On Friday, a University of Minnesota student group, College Republicans, painted a panel on the Washington Avenue Bridge that not only extolled their support of Donald Trump’s bid for president, but also singled out the young conservatives’ specific backing of perhaps Trump’s most controversial proposal: “Build the Wall.”
The phrase “Build the Wall” has often been associated with anti-Latinx, anti-immigrant sentiments. This year, various schools found their students hurling these chants as insults to various Latinx students — a rhetoric that threatens the safety and inclusion of Latinx communities on campus.
In an email sent to University students and staff, President Eric Kaler condemned the panel’s subsequent vandalism that left the original message covered with the phrase “End White Supremacy.” Some groups like La Raza — among others — have commented that President Kaler’s comments are unacceptable and perpetuate endemic, structural racism on campus.
The views of La Raza and other students of color should be given heed. This community has been specifically targeted, and not only in a political sense. Their very personhood has been delegitimized by the policies put forth by Trump during his campaign.
Trump has routinely treated Latinx people and other immigrants as an enemy and as an insidious element within America’s body politic; and by doing so he has implicitly authorized violence against a community that already faces a long history of oppression.
In choosing to slather their panel with “Build the Wall,” our school’s preeminent group of Republicans has spotlighted bigotry — masked in party politics — and has condoned an erasure of the American citizenry of Latinx people.
But, much to our chagrin, we live in a community that protects their speech.
Can we find logic in a policy that protects words that blatantly dehumanize vast swaths of America’s population? No.
Yes, the University is a public institution that ought to let all the voices of its students be heard, but it is also an institution’s duty to ensure its students feel safe, and Kaler’s response failed to provide relief for the Latinx community. Administrators must be held accountable when a segment of the student body feels denigrated by forceful speech. They must take a defiant stand against perceived hate. Yes, speech is valuable, but humanity is too.
So, if we are both confined and liberated by our freedom of speech, then we are presented with an opportunity to let our languages of love and empathy coalesce. Hate is only stoked by further provocation.
On Saturday, students of all gender identities, creeds and ethnicities did just that — they joined together on the Washington Avenue Bridge to combat the hateful tide with conversation, performance art and a sharing of personal histories. Speech that ‘listens’ and provokes rapport has always proven more radical and more powerful.