The purpose of the press has always been to protect and enable democracy.
The idea of free press and free speech at Gustavus came into question this week when multiple campus groups painted the cafeteria windows for Homecoming week.
Following the event, discussion ignited around campus about free speech and the rights of groups to share their ideas with the campus-wide community.
Traditional window paintings went up on Monday night to celebrate homecoming here at Gustavus.
The College Republicans’ window states: “If all means all then why does GAC suppress free speech? #confirmkavanaugh. Socialism is death. Gustavus CRs.”
The next window, painted by HerCampus, states: “We stand with survivors #hercampus.”
After the windows were completed, Gustavus student Amanda Jensen led a protest against the College Republicans’ window.
Jensen said, “I do not have the patience for individuals that seem to not have an understanding of the importance of dignity for others’ bodies. Bodily autonomy is not a concept that is open for discussion. Similarly, humanity is non-negotiable for me. It is clear that some students at Gustavus value some bodies over others, and I will not tolerate that.
Jensen continued by saying, “Since the first day I sat down in the back of the caf with a sign that said I support survivors, I have had countless survivors and folks affected by sexual violence feel comfortable and empowered to share their story. In addition, I have encountered visitors from Nobel, both high schoolers and older folks, come up and thank me and those sitting with me for being advocates and showing support for them. To me, that is more powerful than any negative reactions I may receive from my actions.”
Many students have concerns about the window and about the messages being sent on campus.
“When I saw the window painting for the Campus Republicans Club, it made me extremely upset. I think it gives visitors the idea that Gustavus is complicit towards rapists; a mentality that is very untrue and very damaging to all survivors of rape and sexual assault…The right to free speech is no excuse to be unkind to our fellow human beings, and I think that is forgotten too often nowadays,” Sophomore Signe Jeremiason said.
Other students believe the College Republicans had the right to paint their beliefs on the window.
“The College Republicans have every right to espouse their beliefs and views. Specifically, after the contentious Kavanaugh-Ford hearings, tensions on both sides of the political aisle have been at near-insurmountable levels and due process should be afforded to anyone who has been accused of any crime…Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, regardless of what anyone thinks,” Student Nathan Dull said.
The Gustavus campus seems to be full of differentiating views on whether or not the action was justified.
“While I feel that the group had every right to paint what they did on the window, I also feel that the way they went about it was not constructive. If the goal of a student organization is to bring in new members, the way to do so is not to drive out all of those who disagree. It’s to come to a place where people are able to relate to and understand the messages of the group,” Sophomore Madelyn Smerillo said.
The Campus Activities Board Co-Presidents, Mallery Butchko and Annie Fox, shared their statement on Monday night via an email to all students. The message said, “We do not endorse or restrict any freedom of speech that organizations share and we encourage all of you [students] to have constructive dialogue with the leaders of each group.”
Additionally, they shared that the window would not be taken down because the messages did not directly threaten anyone on campus or elsewhere.
Covering up the window would be a suppression of free speech.
Both the College Republicans and HerCampus have released statements about their windows.
“We as an organization meant no harm and possessed no ill intent by our window painting. Our choice of writing “confirm Kavanagh” was based upon the fact that we are a political organization who is vouching for our supreme court justice to be nominated. We see this country moving from due process and the “innocent till proven guilty “ attitude switching to “guilty till proven innocent.” Since, Kavanaugh has not been proven of committing sexual assault, he is innocent until proven otherwise. If he was proven guilty of such actions I can promise that would not have been written on the window,” Mason Zeiher, College Republicans’ President, said.
“We apologize to anyone hurt or offended by this. We do not condone sexual assault in any form. I repeat that if Kavanagh was a proven assaulter, we as an organization would stay far away from endorsing him for such a powerful position. However, we believe it is of utmost importance to preserve the rule of law and the structure of due process in this country and stand by our decision to support the nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States of America,” Zeiher said.
Corbin Jenkins from Her Campus shared, “We stand by the statement we made in our window painting as a group. We did not mean to open a dialogue of College Republicans vs. Her Campus, but we said what we believed and will not waver from that. We feel that it is important that every survivor out there knows that they are supported, believed, and loved.”
While the college has not released an official decision on whether this incident will be considered a bias event, it is clear to most students is that there is a need for open conversation on this campus. Gustavus promotes a diversity of thought and opinion, which means that as a campus community we may not always agree. That does not mean that voices should be silenced, on any side. For democracy to work, members of the community must listen to each other and be open and respectful to all opinions. We may not always agree as a community, but open, respectful, truthful, communication is a requirement for the survival of democracy.