Home Campus OPINION: Protestors aren’t being taken seriously. They should be.

OPINION: Protestors aren’t being taken seriously. They should be.

5 min read
Protestors demand that Athens be declared a "sanctuary city" in Baker Center during February 2017.

When students protest, the university responds. But not always in the same way. Opinion Editor Zach Gheen  argues a consistent precedent must be set that satisfies both protestors and the administration.

Ohio University has a long history of student protests that seek to challenge a variety of issues both local and national. But while the protests are consistent, reactions from the university have been anything but.

Earlier this year, students staged a sit-in at Baker University Center to urge the administration to declare sanctuary status for undocumented individuals. A political body declaring sanctuary status typically means local officials will not cooperate with the federal government to enforce federal immigration law.

This particular protest was especially critical of university administration. On Jan. 19, then-Ohio U President Roderick McDavis released a statement supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, one that defers deportation of undocumented individuals who arrived in the United States as a child. People who utilize DACA are given a work permit so they may work until their DACA application needs to be renewed. McDavis expressed support for this program, but he did not express that same support for Ohio U to achieve sanctuary status.

While the administration attempted to find compromise in declaring support for DACA, it did little to calm a significant part of the student body that had real fears about the fate of undocumented people in the Athens community. The real step toward combating President Donald Trump’s plan is through a refusal to aid federal officials in carrying out federal immigration law. Since Trump has voiced his desire to repeal DACA, simply sharing support for it does not do much to assuage fears.

Compare the university’s approach to this most recent sit-in to one that occurred in 2014 in response to the decision not to indict the officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The inconsistencies are palpable. The protests occurred in the same spaces and with similar amounts of people, but were met with wildly different reactions. In 2014, Baker was kept open and constructive conversations were had between protesters and university personnel. Nearly three years later, in this same space, around 70 individuals were arrested. The inconsistency of it all should shock you, no matter what your politics are.

Student fears have to be taken seriously. Lukewarm, shoulder-shrugging responses will not cut it. Fears must be allayed through alterations and additional protections provided by the university bureaucracy. University administration must set a consistent precedent. How can students freely express their right of assembly if there are arbitrary decisions as to what protest is acceptable and which is not?

Somebody must make concessions. Only time will tell who will give in first: the university or the protestors. Whatever side makes the decision to relent will color the political atmosphere of the university for the foreseeable future.

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