Fence speech ought not be silenced by mob mentalities
For those of you night owls on campus, on the morning of Monday, April 4, the fraction of campus that goes to their 8:30 a.m. classes woke up to find the touching memorial for our recently deceased fellow students replaced by the slogan “Make America Great Again.”
By 1:30 p.m. that same afternoon, things got even more confusing when all that was left of the message was the red background and splotches of white paint just managing to make the original message indecipherable. It was at this time that the Facebook group Overheard at Carnegie Mellon exploded with before and after pictures of The Fence and escalating debate over the legality and morality of what happened.
First, to address the accusations of vandalism against whoever painted The Fence in broad daylight, the only regulation I was able to find related to painting The Fence prohibits the use of spraypaint, air-brushes, paint rollers and similar tools. Using these to paint The Fence is an act of graffiti. All the other stipulations however, such as only being able to paint between midnight and 6 a.m. and having to completely cover the previous message, seem to just be traditions. So far, there doesn’t seem to be a problem.
Now however, we get to the more charged part of the debate. Was painting The Fence in support of Donald Trump inappropriate? Was this worth breaking our traditions for? As usual, there were heated arguments on both sides, some rational, some less so. What the situation ultimately boils down to is your right to voice your political opinion. The fence didn’t have any hate speech on it. There was no sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise inappropriate content on The Fence.
There was only a political slogan, of the front runner for the 2016 Republican Presidential Nomination might I add. Whether you like the policies he advocates, or you personally get offended by what he stands for, that’s a value judgement that you’re making. What gets me is the blatant hypocrisy of the situation: less than two days after the student body erupts on Overheard, we welcome Hillary Clinton, another Presidential candidate, to our campus with great pomp and celebration.
The problem with breaking our traditions for this scenario is the message it sends. It shows that we, as a campus, will do whatever it takes to silence the voices of those who oppose what we decide as the acceptable opinion.
As a university that prides itself in its diversity, I would hope that we’re capable of seeing and accepting, though not necessarily agreeing with, differing perspectives. There is a frightening trend on college campuses around the country these days that is pruning the students’ right to free speech almost to the point of nonexistence. The Spotlight on Speech Codes 2016 survey found that 49.3 percent of the 440 institutions of higher education surveyed have “at least one policy both clearly and substantially restricting freedom of speech, or that bars public access to its speech-related policies,” while Carnegie Mellon is one of the mere 22 universities found to not have any policies threatening campus expression. I for one, would like to keep it that way. Personally, the idea of dissident opinions being eradicated makes me feel a lot more unsafe than Donald Trump’s slogan, especially since my right to have a dissident opinion is what allows me to vote against him in the first place.
Something that was much more troubling, though not as talked about, was how the Trump propaganda covered up the memorial to our recently deceased fellow students. Painting over The Fence after a mere two days with any message whatsoever is quite a callous gesture. However, The Fence is meant to be painted over, and callousness should not be mistaken for bigotry.
And finally, I’d like to remind everyone that this entire uproar was about a fence with a lot of paint on it.