Sensational Politics and the University

Today while bopping about the interwebs, I came across the following article about a Stanford student who was pressing charges for an altercation at a political event for Brett Kavanaugh.

News video/summary here:

Hopefully, that shows up correctly…

Anyhoo, what basically happened was that the campus Republicans were tabling somewhere on Stanford’s campus to support Kavanaugh. Other students were complaining/arguing/ vandalizing them. At one point Melinda Hernandez pushed/touched John Rice-Cameron, president of the campus’s chapter of the College Republicans. This then escalated to the police being called in, and Hernandez receiving a citation. Rice-Cameron wants to push charges. Some accounts say that Hernandez basically tried to push down Rice-Cameron’s phone because he was filming her without consent and would not stop. Some accounts say that the tabling group likes to entice these kinds of altercations. But none of that is super relevant or factual. Yet, they put a spin on the situation. The facts get twisted by our opinions of “well if they were asking for it…they can hardly press charges,” and “he was just using his right to free speech!” And so on.

No matter your politics, I think we can agree on two things. 1) College campuses should be a place for freedom of self, speech, thought, expression, etc. and 2) violence (no matter how small) should not have a place on a college campus. The problem is that we currently have a dichotomy of thought, and not much of a spectrum on many issues. To add to this, both sides want to prove they are right in any way possible, often by discrediting the other side instead of building up their own. It’s pretty easy to rile someone up about something they really dislike, and it’s also especially difficult to walk away when you feel obligated to defend an idea that is so deeply emotional. Using this as a weapon allows you to say “Look! They can’t even think straight! They resorted primitive violence! Clearly, I’m right, because I don’t need violence!” It’s a dirty trick but it’s a common trick. Look at the Kavanaugh hearing. There was no evidence in that incident. No investigation for truth and facts. It was a pure she said, he said. Both sides used emotion and storytelling. Nothing either one of them said could be verified, but that’s how we chose a Supreme Court Justice…

Now, where am I going with this? The Stanford incident happened at a university, a haven of free thought. Stanford has every responsibility to defend and even encourage the campus Republicans to share their ideas with the greater community. However, I think the university also has a responsibility to teach them how to do so in a constructive manner. When tensions are as high as they currently are, I think it’s important for universities to remind people how to speak with one another, as humans. Both sides see the other as an enemy, as competition, as morally repugnant. But we are all humans, and all need love, support, shelter, etc. The media clearly isn’t about to step in and diffuse the situation, because sensationalism sells. So at some point, I think Universities need to step up, inform the public, and remind the media that facts are important too.

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