Voltaire said, “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”
Recently, students at the University of Missouri have taken increasing hostility towards what they interpret as criticism: media coverage of, well, something newsworthy.
Ever since September 24th, students at Mizzou have regularly gone on strike–whether it be through refusing to eat, or refusing to play football–to protest the inaction of University President Timothy Wolfe in the face of racism on his campus. Consequently, both he and the university’s chancellor resigned, amidst contentious criticism from students and administrators alike. Whether or not Mizzou’s president is culpable for the racism on his campus is a debate far too complicated for this blog post, but the example brings to light the importance speech–and the control of this speech–has on our academic society today.
In the midst of tensions between students and administration, Tim Tai, a student photographer, got a freelance assignment from ESPN to photograph a small tent city that protesters had created on campus. He was met with intense retaliation, as protestors involved in the “Concerned Student 1950” movement did not want him near the camp. The Twitter account of @CS_1950 explained their requests regarding media involvement with their protests through multiple tweets:
If you have a problem with us wanting to have our spaces that we create respected, leave!
It’s typically white media who don’t understand the importance of respecting black spaces.
As a side note, Tim Tai is Asian-American — not “white media.”
We truly appreciate having our story told, but this movement isn’t for you.
Concerned Student 1950’s point is clear: their right to protest peacefully should not be disrupted by the ever-so-threatening villain of photographers, journalists, and news reporters. In a (must-watch) video that deeply disappoints most people who respect the Constitution, the tension between the media and protestors at MU is made clear. Amidst the chants to “push them all out!”, the protestors within the video make one key argument throughout the video: that the media “doesn’t have a right to take their photos.”
It is more than unfortunate that even our high school graduates don’t understand the Constitution (in case anyone needs a refresher), but one should be thankful that students such as Tim Tai can multitask, by both taking photos of protestors while reminding them of their rights. Tai takes them back to the civics class that Mizzou’s students either skipped or slept through, as he explains that he does have the right to take photos. The same precious amendment that allows those protestors to voice their unrestrained dissent guarantees him the right to film and photograph, well, anyone. As Tai himself explained to a woman who told him to leave public property, “… the First Amendment protects your right to be here and mine.”
Not only does the First Amendment guarantee his right to stand as close as he would like to the ill-tempered–I mean, concerned–students, Missouri Senate Bill 93 specifically says that all students have the right to express themselves “as long as the person’s conduct is not unlawful.” The funny, and somewhat ironic thing about this is that the media’s desire to take pictures of citizens on public property does not break any laws; however, the ringleaders–such as Melissa Click–of the scrum of students advocate for the disregarding of the First Amendment in order to accommodate their student’s “needs.” After unsuccessfully grabbing for Tim’s camera, Click yelled, “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.” I reiterate: it is unfortunate our students and our university’s professors don’t understand the Constitution.
Even more humorous is the fact that CS1950 movement cannot efficiently handle media without literally forcing them off their lawn. This simply exposes the movement’s fragility, not its strength. Concerned Student 1950 is not a movement dedicated to the rigidity of its student body, but rather, one that incessantly protects those unable to survive when a camera is pointed in their direction.
Finally, the irony of the protestors’ “safe space” is so laughable it is disheartening. The advocates of Concerned Student 1950 created a safe space as an attempt to flee oppression from other students. The first and most obvious question is simple: why would you create a safe space outdoors, in the middle of campus, where you are exposed to every single student at the University of Missouri?
Moreover, these activists twist the concept of a “safe space” in an astonishing way. They have one single student, who is simply attempting to take pictures, surrounded by activists. Not only do they tamper with his ability to take photos, they forcibly attempt to deny him the civil rights that guarantee his freedom of the press, expression, and speech. In more than one instance, the protestors intimidate Tai. Until ultimately, he is pushed back, where his journalistic efforts are deemed impossible. The individuals within CS1950 carry out all these actions on the premise that Tim Tai is a threat to them, thus he must respect their “safe space.” At what points do our safe spaces become exclusive areas in which only some are allowed, and others are disbarred? And when our areas of exclusivity eventually deny the fundamental civil liberties of other citizens, are they truly “safe spaces?”
The majority of Mizzou’s students can’t be blamed for inaction in the face of counterproductive and unconstitutional social movements. The University of Missouri is, and still should be, a highly respected school in which its students receive a quality education. But, as our society allows for regressive social movements to become more and more prominent, we ignore the key social issues that need to be addressed on our nation’s campuses. “Concerned Student 1950” is not a panacea to our nation’s race problems, it is a distractor. Above all else, we can and should address all social issues while respecting the rights of individuals. Our Founding Fathers intended for our rights to be inalienable; not distributed based on the amount of “oppression” we think we face.
Thanks for reading! If any students are concerned by this blog post and feel personally attacked by my right to voice opinions, feel free to ‘get some muscle‘ and deal with it.
But until then,
Concerned Me, 2015