Webster University English major Alexandria Lenzi writes to President Elizabeth Stroble regarding a letter from the President and Provost on Civil Discourse following the United States presidential election.
Dear President Beth Stroble,
When I opened your letter to the university, I hoped to read a message acknowledging the threats made against minorities by President-elect Donald Trump and his electorate. What I read were vague words on acceptance and unity through differences. While I want to support these values, they seemed to represent a campus unaffected by current events. Our nation has seen a 67 percent increase in hate crimes this year as reported by the FBI, and white nationalist movements like the “alt-right” continue to gain popularity with their racist rhetoric.
I agree that our ideals should remain stronger than ever during this time. But highlighting the importance of diversity while ignoring threats made specifically against it does nothing for the minority students whose very presence on this campus are the reason for Webster’s achievements in diversity. What I had hoped you would address in your letter were the risks of living as those “diverse” students in Trump’s America.
Diversity is beautiful to see and experience on campus and I was proud to read in the Journal last year that our student body population is above national average in this regard. Yet despite Webster’s accomplishments in creating a global community, statistical diversity does not solve institutionalized racism and misogyny. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported 437 incidents of intimidation against people of color, Muslims, women, immigrants, and the LGBTQIA community between the election on Nov. 8 and Nov. 14 alone. Your letter did not cover these concerns.
As a former opinions editor for the Journal, I completely agree that college campuses must remain open and accepting of opposing viewpoints to encourage civil discourse, a fundamental part of our democratic society. However, our democracy just elected a man who gained power through hateful speech against ethnic and religious minorities and misogynistic, trans-homophobic policy, which threaten many of the students on this campus.
While your letter in no way took sides with any particular political movement—as is only right of a federally-funded private university—your words failed to substantially address the crisis many of your students are living. Overcoming hate is a bipartisan issue! Such hate should have no power in the civil dialogue encouraged on campus.
As university president, I am sure you are aware how important a role minority protection plays in maintaining a balance of power. I appreciate your message supporting neighborly ideals and accepting diverse opinions. But how far do we as a campus tolerate differing opinions if they endanger others?
When racist incidents erupted on MIZZOU’s campus, including swastika graffiti, racial slurs, and sightings of the KKK, their administration was slow to act. With many racist and homophobic demonstrations appearing across American campuses, one wonders what Webster would do in such a situation.
Ignoring these threats does not place the university on neutral ground. Silence is the side of the oppressor. With all due respect, please elaborate on how Webster University will remain a protected space for marginalized people who have become targets of not only their fellow neighbors, but their president-elect and his supporters.
Webster University has been and will always be an open forum for ideas. Speaking out against hate crimes committed on other campuses after the election and addressing safety issues following the civil unrest on both sides does not hinder this exchange of ideas or free speech. A clear standpoint on such issues would ease many students’ anxieties and prevent those who seek to exploit such fears.
I believe in the Webster you praise in your letter. I’m proud of our national diversity statistics, and I’m confident that because of our strong community, which you have dedicated yourself to protecting, you will speak out against national threats and prove to minority students that their struggles have your attention.