Over the last several years there have been many examples of students who cannot handle dissent and lash out at conservative students and invited speakers in an attempt to silence them. These events tend to happen on undergraduate campuses but it seems unlikely that they will continue to be restricted to them.
I am a student at the University of Virginia School of Law, and co-president of the Law Republicans. A few weeks ago, I wrote an article for the law school newspaper, Virginia Law Weekly, about terms in the immigration debate. I hoped to start a discussion about the immigration debate and the policies proposed in Congress. My article, Untangling the Immigration Debate, examined the origins and use of three popular leftist euphemisms that confuse conversation about immigration: (1) Illegal Immigrant/Undocumented Worker; (2) DREAMer; and (3) Chain(ed) Migration.
The reaction at the school was immediate. Within a day of publication, friends were pulling me aside in the halls to warn me that people were “really upset” by the article and to watch out. Perhaps it was naïve to think that the response would be reasoned debate with a response in the school paper, but what happened instead was unexpected and shameful.
As Thursday night progressed, more and more of my friends texted and called me to offer their support, “just checking in,” or repeating the warning that people were “really upset.” Some of them informed me that they were facing blowback for being associated with me. There were statuses and comments on Facebook calling the article and me racist for using the term “illegal immigrant” and for mentioning statistics that were not flattering about a portion of DACA DREAMers. My article was labeled “xenophobic and racist.” Some charges of racism came from people whom I had been close to for the last year and a half.
What was most shocking was the response on the law school grounds themselves. First, in an attempt to silence me, leftist students stole bundles of the printed newspapers, a violation of UVA’s strict, one-strike Honor Code — an expellable offense. Second, they defaced the paper and slandered me by leaving one copy of the paper in the newsstand with my name scratched out and “XENOPHOBIC” scrawled across the article. Third, they tried to intimidate me and the newspaper editorial board by cutting out the article, using red marker to circle it and write “SHAME” in large letters across the page, and pinning it to the board outside the Law Weekly’s office. After this last move, many people at the law school who support the article’s right to be published have expressed concern for the members of the law weekly.
Though this situation sounds like the craziness happening on many undergraduate campuses, there are two major differences between this situation at UVA Law and the situations on undergraduate campuses. First, a significant portion of the liberal student body has come out against this reaction by the school’s far left activists. Some of the liberal students still found the article to be “problematic,” but they have reached out to me to make sure I am alright, and have said that the theft, smearing, and intimidation by the far Left students is embarrassing and repugnant.
The second, greater difference was the response from the administration. Within a day, the administration contacted me to see how I was handling the situation. They assured me that I had their support in writing and publishing what I wanted. They also assured me that the school’s policies are content neutral and protect all students from actions such as targeted harassment.
The administration has considered each of the far Left students’ actions separately: (1) the theft of the papers is to be treated as a serious breach of the school’s code of conduct; (2) the posting of the article outside the Law Weekly office was seen as a protest — the school errs on the side of caution with free speech; and (3) the online statuses and comments online were outside the reach of the administration — the school does not police students’ social media accounts.
The administration’s investigation into the theft of the papers is ongoing and an official response by the school is being withheld until the investigation is completed. I am hoping the investigation uncovers the thief and the administration issues a strong response that upholds the community’s standards and integrity.
While the student activist responses were ridiculous and immediately got out of hand, the response so far by the majority of the UVA Law community, especially the mainstream liberal students and the administration, is a cause for optimism. Many liberal students condemned and disavowed the extremist response and the response by the administration looks to be proactive and fair; it was quick to affirm that students have the right to publish articles like this despite their controversy. Other schools may learn from the direction UVA Law appears to be taking: the bullies are few in number though loud in action. They are easily outnumbered and resisted when a community rallies around its core values and the honor it shares.