As the New York primaries approach, some NYU upperclassmen have encountered hostility due to their support of Republican front-runner Donald Trump. FOX and CNN held live interviews that gave the students an opportunity to air their grievances to a national audience. Trump supporters, they claim, “accept the fact that people aren’t going to like [them].” They fear that “when someone comes that goes against their viewpoint, they automatically disregard all of that open-mindedness and tolerance.” Regardless of whether or not these feelings of hostility have been embellished or exaggerated, strict labeling and rejection of Trump supporters and the swirl of media that has ensued is detrimental to NYU, an institution renowned for its free speech, social movements and debate.
While numerous student organizations at NYU are at the forefront of social advocacy, the recent spate of media coverage can be seen as a demerit — a sensitive campus struggling to cope and integrate with mainstream political discourse. As differing ideologies continue to clash, it is increasingly important to examine the policies that govern university conduct and discourse. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a non-partisan, non-profit organization, evaluates the constitutionality of U.S. university policies with Green, Yellow or Red-Light ratings. Green Light codes “do not seriously imperil speech” while a Red Light code “both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. A ‘clear’ restriction is one that unambiguously infringes on what is or should be protected expression.”
NYU should be commended on receiving a Green Light rating for its Guidelines Regarding Protest and Dissent. This central document governing student conduct comports well with civil liberties: “Free inquiry, free expression, and free association are indispensable to the purposes of the University, and must be protected as a matter of academic freedom within the University, quite apart from the question of constitutional rights.”
Unfortunately, NYU is one of many universities with a Red Light rated Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy. The overreaching policy states, “Examples of actions that constitute prohibited harassment may include, but are not limited to: verbal abuse or hostile behavior, which could include insulting, teasing, mocking, degrading, or ridiculing another person or group…” Ultimately, this low rating highlights just how important it is for students to be able to voice their opinions, however nasty they may be. At the same time, immediately labeling of a Trump supporter as a racist, fascist or simply of low intellect perpetuates the category of brash thought that so many groups have worked to eliminate. As with everything, there is a delicate balance that must be made.
Students shouldn’t be proud of the fact that a minority group, whatever its values, feel belittled and ridiculed. While many may be satisfied with the label of “a liberal campus,” a one-sided campus where differing viewpoints exist only in whispers prevents robust dialogue and creates a campus quandary that no longer reflects the reality beyond the Square. In this regard, NYU is surprisingly humane in policy, but its students still have a long way to go.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
Email Aaron Reuben at [email protected]