Why Colby students have a duty to disrupt

Well, this has been an emotional couple of weeks. In the span of 24 hours, a protest against police brutality exposed the dark underbelly of bigotry on the Hill. Within another 48, over 500 students, faculty, and members of the community came out to hear speeches by President Greene and several faculty members calling for Colby students to open their minds and their hearts.

While the protesters are no longer circling campus and that podium has since been packed away, the ideas that sprang forth from both groups have not. Students and faculty have continued to discuss the issues surrounding race that affect our campus and the world around us. I doubt that this showing of solidarity and widespread discussion has changed the minds of all those who were involved with those certain Yik Yaks, but even if it changed just one of them, I would call that a success. While the protestors and President Greene already seem to be saturated with praise, I would be remiss if I didn’t express my gratitude for the work they’ve done by helping inspire all of us to be better.

Speech is a powerful thing. That’s why I’m part of the debate team. That’s why I work for the Echo. That’s why I argue whenever I can. Otherwise, thoughts become dogma, and dogma is rarely a good thing. Thomas Jefferson, while reflecting on the US Constitution, once wrote, “every constitution…and every law, naturally expires at the end of nineteen years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.” When we see injustice, we cannot morally stand by passively. We must speak up in order to affect change. This requires us participating in conversations that may make us feel uncomfortable—even alienated—if they will help us grasp a greater understanding of how oppression exists and how we can work to change it.

While I believe the Constitution could use a revamp—looking at you, Second Amendment—the Founding Fathers did get something right: the First Amendment. Without the rights granted to us in this document, we may not have been able to hear the disruption caused by our fellow peers or the acknowledgement led by President Greene. While some students have voiced their opinion that the disruptions caused by the protestors did not enact any significant change, they got us talking, and talking leads to change. Though I wholeheartedly disagree with the protest’s “disturbance” detractors, I am happy that the First Amendment exists to allow such speech. If it weren’t for detractors, would we have such a vibrant discourse as we do today? If not for the students who moaned about the disruption, would we still be talking about the protest today?

During this brouhaha on the Hill, another debate about Freedom of Speech raged on at Valdosta State University in Georgia. A group of students of color held a protest in the middle of campus earlier this week, where part of their protest focused on trampling the American flag. While this was happening, an Air Force veteran (and—fun fact—former Playboy model), Michelle Manhart, snatched the flag from the students and walked away with it. The group confronted her and campus security was called in to get the flag back. After refusing to give police the flag, she was wrestled to the ground and ultimately arrested. During the video of the incident, the person filming it could be heard asking police officers, “You couldn’t stand up for the flag?”

Much like the issues that surround race, the issue of free speech has long been a controversial and messy one. The American flag has always held special significance to me. When I became a Boy Scout, one of the first things I learned to do was to “fold the colors” in a dignified manner. When our flags became ragged from wear, our troop had campfire ceremonies to respectfully “retire” the flag. After I had lived in Australia for a few years, hearing the National Anthem or seeing the American flag nearly brought me to tears.

Maybe I’m just a nationalist in denial, but when I see the flag, I see it as a symbol for the values that our nation holds dear: equality, liberty and justice. We are by no means a perfect nation. We are responsible for starting wars, intervening in other nations’ governments, and denying justice and equality to a large percentage of our citizenry. But by following these values and adhering to the rights afforded to us by the Constitution, we have made significant strides toward our ideal. We have abolished slavery, given our citizenry universal suffrage, and used legislation and legal means to push for social equality. This is why discourse and disruption are good. Without the disturbance caused by the abolitionist movement or suffrage movement or Civil Rights movement, we would have continued to marginalize our citizens.

Do I think that trampling an American flag is wrong? Of course. Do I think that Michelle Manhart was right for taking the flag away? Absolutely not. Disruption and protest is the key to an evolving democracy—or a college campus—as it breeds discussion on key issues and shows other people that they’re important enough to fight for. As an ironic side note, I just realized that the Valdosta protestors decided not to tell the media what they were fighting for. Go figure.

My point is I hope there will be future disruptions. I, like many Colby students, have been largely apathetic when it comes to protests on campus. Perhaps this comes from a culture left by Greene’s predecessor or maybe it’s just because everyone is so busy with everything else they have to do. No matter the case, this past week has been a wake up call. We’re college students, goddamnit. If movies have taught me anything, we should be marching across Miller Lawn in Che Guevara t-shirts and getting into heated arguments about Descartes. In an age where we spend so much time communicating to others via screens and getting news from clickbait websites, we lose nuance. Disruptions are rarely nuanced, and yet this new stimulus drives people to confront it. From these discussions, new ideas are formed. Don’t be afraid to disagree (seriously, I’ve wanted someone to respond to one of my pieces for so long).  Even if you’re wrong, you learned something, and I’m pretty sure that’s what we came here to do in the first place.

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