Dear Chancellor Gilliam,
Last Tuesday, I was embarrassed to be a student at UNC-Greensboro. But, worse than that, I felt abandoned by my administrators.
Of course, the event I’m tacitly alluding to is the mass protest against HB-2 that rocked our campus to its core.
Like many students, I had no idea that such a protest was even being held until I stumbled upon the gathering on my way to lunch with a friend.
At first, the protest seemed to be typical of our student body; there was a large, animated crowd passionately expressing its displeasure toward an extremely controversial piece of legislation.
Yet, after that initial moment in time, I recognized that this protest was different. It was more obscene, rude and disrespectful — and seeing as though I held a front-row seat to the student rec center protests two years ago, that’s really saying something.
As news crews from across the triad and state poured into our campus, students at the protest found it appropriate to liberally use obscene language in speeches and chants.
On top of that, most of the signs that were held in plain view had the eloquent phrase, “Fuck HB-2” plastered on them.
Honestly, such language is unbecoming of our student body, undermines the protesters’ cause and lowers the debate to an unfortunate level. Put simply, if argumentative language is contingent upon the liberal use of obscenities, then the discussion will almost surely descend into an episode of mud-slinging that would make Miley Cyrus’s VMA hosting gig look tame.
Also, it must be said that the prepared statement recited at the protest was a well-crafted and genuine message that had the right to be heard. Unfortunately, the obscene signs and chants hindered the dissemination of that message and alienated students not firmly in the anti-HB-2 camp.
Now, I’m well aware that the use of obscene language is not grounds for any type of administrative action; however, it certainly bolsters the case. The reason I say that is because of what happened 30 minutes into the protest.
Following the brief series of speeches and obscene chants, the protesters marched down Spring Garden Street and halted traffic at its intersection with Tate Street.
Certainly, the protesters were aware that such an action — at lunch hour, no less — was prohibited; but, because the protesters could not care less for the rule of law, they chose to march into the intersection, lock arms and prevent the passage of a single car.
While traffic was halted, protesters continued the recitation of obscene chants that indirectly taunted honest bystanders standing outside their cars waiting patiently for the protesters to clear out of the road.
Of course, the protesters only moved out of the way when UNCG police officers respectfully ushered them to the sidewalks — and, as an eyewitness to the event, I can proudly report that the UNCG police responded in an admirable fashion.
The reason that I commend the police officers — who, I might add, are integral parts of your administration, Mr. Chancellor — is that in-between the protesters profanity-laden chants, the police officers were targets of rage. Repeatedly, protesters taunted the “racist-ass police” who are exclusively responsible for protecting them from harm on campus.
Regardless of your feelings about the police, it is absolutely outrageous to specifically target and demean a group of people who work a thankless and difficult job.
Also, the hurling of such epithets is not proportional to whatever injustice people may find in our criminal justice system — as far as I know, the African-American officers that helped corral the protesters have never been involved in a controversial incident.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the protesters brazen march into Mossman. But, seeing as though the entire administrative staff is surely aware of that instance, I feel that it’s largely unimportant.
That, of course, brings me back to the primary purpose of this letter. To put it bluntly, Chancellor Gilliam, you blew it.
Throughout your brief chancellorship, you’ve publicly shown solidarity with the University of Missouri, condemned the UNCG College Republicans for posting a racist and obscene flyer all over campus, and even expressed your own personal opposition to HB-2.
To be honest, none of that support bothers me — except the university message where the administration took a policy position on a hotly-debated state law.
Nevertheless, your unwillingness to take a brief moment out of your busy day to address the most eye-catching protest on our campus in two years represents nothing less than a derogation of duty.
The manner in which the protesters behaved was clearly unacceptable. Rather than focus on their many legitimate complaints against HB-2, they stooped to the lowest levels of human nature and insulted their opponents with impunity.
Personally, I can’t imagine that you approve of the tactics employed at the protest last Tuesday. In fact, based on my brief interview with you at the beginning of the Fall Semester, I’m very confident that you don’t feel that way.
Fortunately, I’m quite positive that a large majority of students on this campus understand that such behavior — not the message — has no place in an institution of higher learning. In a sense, this is a moral question that should be immune from petty personal justifications.
And, as I said to a group of students last week, if all of those protesters were shown footage of their actions 30 years from now, you’d be hard-pressed to find many who wouldn’t be slightly embarrassed.
Of course, my own views on this issue don’t matter. The moral relativist crowd on campus will treat my conservative perspective with contempt, mainly because of the fact that I’m their contemporary.
On the other hand, Mr. Chancellor, you are in a far different position. I vividly remember the many times in my short life that I held steadfast opinions on an issue or situation, despite knowing that deep down I was wrong. Fortunately, there were individuals in my life who pulled me aside and kindly told me that I was wrong. And, as I write this, I’m forever grateful for those moments.
Many of the protesters last Tuesday need to have that moment, too — about their tactics, not about their message.
Chancellor Gilliam, you had an opportunity to use that instance of civil disobedience as a teaching moment for our entire student body. Without even mentioning HB-2, you could have backed up your police officers, urged students not to shut down city traffic and asked students to omit obscenities from signs for future protests.
Ultimately, this small gesture could have paid large dividends for our campus. Yet, sadly, you chose to do nothing.
Frankly, we deserved better.
The Silent Majority of Students