OU leaders’ support for opposition to pro-Trump graffiti shows lack of both balance and respect for all students’ freedom of speech.

The university's reaction to the pro-Trump painting on the graffiti wall is disturbing.

If you don’t know what’s going on, here’s a summary: On April 7, the graffiti wall was painted with “Trump 2016” and “Build The Wall.” The Hispanic and Latino Student Union at OU had an emergency meeting at the Multicultural Center and then painted “Build Bridges Not Walls” on the graffiti wall.

OU President Roderick McDavis and Jenny Hall-Jones, dean of students and interim vice president for Student Affairs, were at the meeting. McDavis then sent an email April 8 about the power of words and said, “to the members of the Bobcat community who were hurt by yesterday’s words, here are my words to you: I value you. I believe in you. I support you.”

First of all, to those on campus who felt targeted or threatened by the “Build The Wall” message, all my sympathies are with you. I want this campus to be as safe and welcoming as possible, for all people. I understand why people view “Build The Wall” as racially charged and perhaps threatening.

My issue is not with the reaction of those in the Hispanic/Latino/a community, but with the university.

The pro-Trump message on the graffiti wall was a matter of freedom of speech (as was the “Build Bridges Not Walls” response from the Hispanic and Latino Student Union).

The individuals who wrote the pro-Trump message on the graffiti wall were completely within their constitutional right of freedom of speech to paint what they painted.

Even if you see those words as hate speech, that is a protected form of speech.

Many universities, under pressure to respond to the concerns of those who are the objects of hate, have adopted codes or policies prohibiting speech that offends any group based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union. “That's the wrong response, well-meaning or not. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content.”

I fear that is what is happening at OU. It is very concerning that at the emergency meeting at the Hispanic and Latino Student Union, McDavis said, “What’s on the wall isn’t right. I am offended. We should all be offended.”

It might not have been right, but it was legal. McDavis is within his right to be personally offended. And he should absolutely support the safety and inclusion of all students. But as the president of a publicly funded university, it is concerning that he appears to be belittling and, dare I say, condemning the freedom of speech granted to all students, no matter what their views.

It’s no secret Athens is a liberal town. OU is a liberal campus. Usually that creates a very opening and accepting environment. Step into the city limits and you will see people of every creed, color, gender expression, sexual orientation, religion, background, etc. For the most part, you can be anyone and do anything and find a space for you at OU, especially compared to other cities and colleges, including in Ohio.

However, the downside to such an overwhelming liberal majority is that it is seen as the only view that is right.

I have written in the past about the limitations of our two-party system. Having only one accepted view on campus is even more limiting.

It is not the first incident concerning conservative political views and support for Donald Trump in which they were not being respected on campus. In March, a student’s Trump stickers were repeatedly ripped off her door because people were offended.

Let me remind you, just because someone or something offends you does not give you the right to violate others’ freedoms.

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the ways the university obstructs journalists and fogs transparency. Now it seems it is limiting freedom of speech outright.
I may wholeheartedly, vehemently disagree with your support for a certain candidate or political views, but I will just as wholeheartedly support your right to support him/her/it. McDavis and the university should, too.

Erin Davoran is a senior studying journalism. What do you think about the graffiti wall controversy? Tweet her @erindavoran or email her at ed414911@ohio.edu.