Letter to the Editor — Debbie Ojeda on the YAL decision
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The Sunken Campus
Last Wednesday night was the fourth time this semester I came home to my family with tears in my eyes. I have been lucky to have my spouse as a strong foundation, but I wonder what other students in Student Government Association do afterwards to deal with the anxiety. In my 29 years, this has been the hardest sense of minority stress I have ever experienced. I cannot imagine how it may feel for other students who are significantly younger than me. We forget that Student Government Association is an organization run by students. These students are very bright but still have a lot to learn and even in my age, I still have a lot to learn. We also forget why people run for student government. I will like to believe most do to get their constituents’ voices heard. That’s why I joined. I saw problems happening on my campus and wanted to use the skills I learned from my degree to help the community I care deeply about. Most importantly, I want to mentor students who barely have a voice not only on campus but in society, as well.
That is why I am concerned because I’ve noticed a trend in how we react, how we speak to each other and how this institution is impacted because of it. It is no secret that the current political climate has a negative influence on society and this campus. It has made many students less empathetic towards other students. I know people say that Joseph and Taben caused a divide on campus- that is frankly not true. No one person has the capability to do so and human behavior is far more complicated than that. As a social scientist myself, I know it goes beyond this campus. Is in our ideologies, the assumptions, and the stereotypes we have for each other. The divide happened because people are becoming more confident and comfortable in hating marginalized students on campus.
Which is why I want to write about Young Americans for Liberty (YAL). I have been very much outspoken about these national organizations even way before I knew there was a chapter starting on campus. I am a strong advocate for freedom of speech if it does not perpetuate violence against those who are often oppressed. Regardless of the laws that is in place, I know that language has a significant and strong hold on power and politics. When I voted no to recognize this organization, I did not vote no because of the students. I am also concerned for these students. This organization may disadvantage these students from getting to know other students from different backgrounds which has proven to be an asset for academia and innovation. It is not a judgement on the students who want to become an RSO, it is a judgement I have with the national organization. This organization will hurt these students whether they agree with me or not.
In addition, I voted no against the national organization because I have seen videos and read articles on how much it has negatively impacted universities. YAL uses freedom of speech similar to other hate groups like the Klu Klux Klan, Neo Nazis, and the Westboro Church. They use freedom of speech as a tool to condone violent language toward minority groups. Similar organizations like YAL have used these concepts to try and dismantle safe spaces, claiming that these are not “intellectual” spaces. Safe spaces are intellectual spaces because it fosters conversations especially about gender, race, sex, politics, and intersectionality. I am concerned for students of color, trans students, student veterans, students with disabilities, queer students and students who have been marginalized; and I am concerned for the spaces on this campus that makes them feel safe at home and help them to be academically successful.
When we accept this hateful rhetoric and normalize it, what would become of this campus? How would students feel safe knowing that this institution has recognized and therefore normalize bigotry and hate speech? How can any student, including myself, feel safe on this campus?
That is why I am disappointed and respectfully disagree with Dr. Teri Hall’s choice to override the decision. To go behind SGA’s back without communicating with us feels disempowering to say the least. I believe it is the responsibility of the Association adviser to create learning moments like our previous adviser, Christine Schneikart-Luebbe. Christine would’ve wanted open conversations with the senate members instead of shaming members during public forum. As an educator myself, there must be room to foster conversations with students even when I believe they made the wrong decision. Moreover, I felt that she completely dismissed my valid fears by accusing me of being judgmental. To compare this situation to having a Muslim Student Association (MSA) also adds a layer of racial injustice. Those who are vehemently against MSA because of “its ties with a terrorist organization” are being racist and Islamophobic- it is different from my opposition of YAL. I am not against white people, I am not against cisgender men, and although I disagree with much of the conservative and libertarian ideals, I am not against having student organizations with these ideologies. I am strictly against an organization that manipulates students to feel like hate speech is not violent and perpetuates a culture that would strictly exclude many marginalized students. I am confused as to why Dr. Hall had the audacity to compare both situations as if they were similar. They are vastly different.
Quite honestly, it was the first time I have felt so blatantly disrespected. It’s been difficult to feel that the relationship the 59 th session
has with Dr. Teri Hall has been academic and respectful. It has me worried about the direction of which this university, this state and this nation is heading to. My anxiety makes me feel that this will not end well and many students will be negatively impacted. Argentine-Chilean- American academic and human rights activist, Ariel Dorfman said it best when it comes to language: “You want to free the world, free humanity, from oppression? Look inside, look sideways, look at the hidden violence of language. Never forget that language is where the other, parallel violence, the cruelty exercised on the body, originates.”
Nevertheless, although this session has one more senate meeting to go, it is important to know that we will still be here and we will be watching. What makes marginalized students so resilient is that we look out for each other.
Believe me, our voices will be heard.