Emory University students awoke Monday morning to many messages supporting presidential candidate Donald Trump written in chalk all over the Atlanta campus.
The issue sparked a national debate about freedom of speech, Trump’s message and student activism.
Amanda Obando Polio, a freshman from El Salvador who is an Emory Woodruff Scholar, explains her reaction to the ongoing debate. — Susan Svrluga
By Amanda Obando Polio
Emory University began its first-year orientation for the Class of 2019 by talking about ‘a community of care’. From presentations to intimate talks with our orientation groups, we were given a space in which we could discuss and express our opinion on contemporary social issues.I still remember how unknowledgeable I was about the level of severity of these problems. Why? Because I am an international student from El Salvador in Central America.Since then, I made a point of trying to understand white, black and brown Americans about their socio-political and economic positions in this nation.On Monday, online posts on Facebook on the Trump chalking went viral on our social networks. Chalking isn’t uncommon to us at Emory University as there is a policy stating that students are permitted to chalk around horizontal surfaces on campus. In this instance, however, phrases such as “Vote Trump 2016,” “Accept the Inevitable Trump 2016,” and “Build the Wall,” were written on benches, vertical walls, and staircases. Thus, the chalking was considered vandalism.
[The university issued a statement Thursday: “Emory University has not identified the individual(s) responsible for placing chalking graffiti in various campus locations earlier this week, and no follow-up action is planned related to the incident. It’s important to note that chalkings by students are allowed as a form of expression on the Emory campus but must be limited to certain areas and must not deface campus property – these chalkings did not follow guidelines – that’s the issue regarding violation of policy, not the content."]
Apart from the offense, the biggest interpretation was that of a prank. Someone probably did it to get a laugh out of the reaction.Nevertheless, the reactions differed within the student population. Some people didn’t care, a few laughed, others were awed, surprised or disappointed… and a small portion was seriously disturbed.From the latter group, approximately 40 decided to protest. I was at the Centro Latino, a safe space for Hispanics and Latinx on campus, when it was being discussed.About an hour or two later, I was looking down from one of the dorms at the protest made up of Latinx students and their allies. They were loud and they were heard. They ended at the Dobbs University Center where we all eat. It would have caught attention one way or another.I, as a female Salvadoran, belong to the international network of migration from Latin American countries to the United States. El Salvador is one of the deadliest places in the world, as its homicide rate is surging.
I graduated from a private school, on a scholarship, despite facing poverty during high school.I participated in various student organizations in school and volunteered with the local youth of my city. I am a person who has lived through difficulty and, even though I am not from this country, I felt fear.It was not for the chalking but for what it reminded me of; that America is changing and it could potentially transform into a nation with a leader who continually degrades people from various social groups.When I came to the United States, when I applied and received a student visa, when I boarded that plane in August, I did not sign up for this.It might be naïve to expect that this country was going to be the land of opportunity. But America can’t be proud of giving foreigners that impression anymore now that offenses that ignite social protests happen so often.The worst is that I see this without necessarily calling the USA my home. The people who protested, (who are not the entire Latinx community), do. How is life here when you, your family, and friends get discriminated against by a presidential front-runner?How would it feel to think that so many parts of you could be deported to a country you have probably never visited?How would it be to keep these feelings under the rug, including the already existing systematic discrimination, and suddenly see the source of your fears written all over your campus?Quite worrying, isn’t it? That’s the point.The protest was not against freedom of speech or for some simple chalking.It meant to express discontent and bring awareness to the inequalities faced by the Latinx Community and other minorities.Forty out of about 14,000 students at Emory protested. Now 40 students are facing the same silencing against free speech when they are being told that they are immature and ridiculed by the whole nation.It is 40 students, many with prestigious scholarships, who fight for what they believe is just.My discontent lies in the lack of thought most people at Emory and America have on these Trump events.Yes, freedom of speech must be respected.People can express themselves as much as they like for and against an ideology. But no one is entitled to tell anyone how they can feel in reaction to a stimulus — much less if they don’t know their background and judge them based on prejudice.It’s troubling (and the statement provided by Black and Brown Students of Emory agrees) how media has portrayed all of this as a reaction to the chalking. Some of the media is posting hateful articles that use demonizing language to criticize Emory students. All of these are letting people know that things are happening but none of them really portray the truth behind the situation.As a result, several students who were involved in the protest and others who only gave comments to newspapers (like me) have been reached out to by strangers through social media with hateful and threatening messages.At least other students at Emory and other colleges are showing their support and solidarity through social media…If anything, this whole situation has made me understand American social dynamics a lot more: Those who do not belong and lack experiences with the oppressed social groups usually do not understand the discrimination that is faced. Thus, they assume that situations like these are ‘overreactions.’In any case, these people, Trump supporters, and even the person who chalked around Emory deserve appropriate respect.Because their opinion also has a background, and matters as much as everyone else’s.