So, it finally happened: an on-campus preacher got punched. Thursday’s news of violence on campus, which would normally garner shock from students, passed with little alarm around campus, and I can’t say I’m surprised. But that doesn’t make it right; the animosity on the Plaza has gotten out of hand.
Why has such an abhorrent act of violence felt like an inevitability? The relationship between students and demonstrators on the Plaza has grown too toxic, and the acts of the still-unknown assailant provide physical evidence that tensions have been allowed to boil for far too long. With his fists, this student has punctuated the need for change in our Plaza. Behavior in the Plaza needs to be reined in for the safety and well-being of everyone.
Activity in the Plaza needs more attention from students and administrators alike, because the aggression from both sides has gotten out of hand. This assault against a preacher on campus may seem random, but it is merely a new low in a relationship that has been deteriorating for some time. Our Free Speech Zone was instituted with good intentions, but our community as a whole has failed to give it its proper attention.
What was once an area for proud expression (be it from moderates or zealots) has devolved into a place of mudslinging and harassment. We have failed as a whole to stand up for ourselves as one, leaving some individuals with nowhere to turn to when they feel threatened, which has led to this physical violence. We as students should not be putting up with or participating in the verbal harassment that now plagues the Plaza, and administration should not be putting outside individuals’ rights above the protection of their own students.
Free speech has been given far too much leeway, and it needs to be reevaluated in the context of our campus for students and outsiders alike. We like to pride ourselves on being a welcoming community, but giving free speech no inhibitions also welcomes in the harassment and aggression that has recently crescendoed into violence. Students have treated this abhorrent act with little more than shrugs, but can you blame them when administration ignores the verbal harassment students and outsiders suffer on a weekly basis? We cannot simply shrug off verbal and physical abuse from either side; we can’t ignore it. Physical and verbal aggression is unhealthy in any environment and should not be condoned on the Plaza.
Everyone has a right to their opinions, but everyone also has a right to conduct their business on campus without being slandered. Some people would simply have everyone “toughen up,” but that solution still ignores the larger problem of abuse, and that extends to both parties.
Girls shouldn’t have to endure slut shaming, and boys shouldn’t have to face public questioning of their sexual identity or experience. On the same coin, proselytizers shouldn’t have to deal with personal attacks or having their signage stolen. While the preachers who visit our campus are more than well-deserving of the contempt they receive, anyone who has witnessed the “debates” that fill our Plaza know that the aggression is not one-sided.
Ignoring this problem is bad, but perpetuating it is worse. The only thing we need to “toughen up” is our resolve as a community that this kind of behavior cannot be tolerated from anyone, and that the administration must protect this.
This isn’t to say that all preachers that visit our campus need to be removed, or that the student body at large participates in the harassment on the Plaza. Just like the proselytizers represent a tiny minority in the religion they claim to represent, only a small part of our student population participate in perpetuating the problem, and only a few of the outsiders that visit are truly problematic.
But Thursday’s act of violence shows that harassment on the Plaza cannot be ignored any more. For the integrity of our Free Speech Zone, for the safety and well-being of students and guests on campus, the Plaza must be protected.
Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter by @seanskenn.