On Nov. 15, the UNH College Democrats held a “walk-out” to, according to the Facebook event details, “show solidarity with all people who are at risk of getting their rights taken away by a Donald Trump presidency…” You can actually go check it out yourself, the Facebook event is still accessible. At this event, two individuals stood amongst the crowd, one in a gorilla suit and one in a Richard Nixon mask. After many individuals became upset about these attendees, particularly when UNH professors came forward calling for an investigation and expulsion of these two, a media storm brewed. This past Wednesday, these two met up with myself and Managing Editor Elizabeth Clemente in hopes to publish an anonymous letter from the Nixon mask protester that can be found on page 12 of this issue.
After much deliberation, we have decided to keep these two anonymous. As young editors, this was not an easy decision. Our code of ethics, based off the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics, as well as many other college publications, states that if a source wishes to remain unidentified, the source must provide substantial reasoning. And, if the reason is substantial, the executive and managing editors must be given the name of the source.
These two individuals are in fact not students. One is an alumnus, and both are Durham natives and locals. The reason for staying anonymous is because their family members fear it will ruin their reputation with the many UNH organizations they support and cause an unfair disadvantage in family applying for positions at the university. Based on the reaction from many UNH community members, the worry about the effects on their family are unfortunately valid. The author of the letter to the editor expressed he would have liked to publish his name in another meet-up on Sunday, but finds it more important to respect the wishes of his family, and so do we. Let me tell you a little bit about these two.
These are not Trump supporters and the sons of immigrants. One is a veteran who served for eight months in Afghanistan, both are involved with social justice. They went to the protest to simply live troll the idea of holding the protest. They did not “throw” pacifiers, as reported by one protester, but handed them out as a joke; nothing anyone had to take from them. These are two people who, as Americans, had every right to attend this public event on public university property.
I would like to address the “Harambe” costume and Nixon mask. Although in retrospect they see how a gorilla costume could be seen as offensive, they thought that people would understand the joke because of the internet sensation that has had the world talking since May 2016, after a gorilla named Harambe from the Cincinnati Zoo was shot and killed after a young child fell into the animal’s enclosure. Although I have to disagree with the tastefulness of this costume and the offense that should have been seen, it is important to know that a racial slur was not his intent. As for the Nixon mask, this individual was just going through a collection of presidential masks his friend had and thought the Nixon one was the most identifiable. They were not going for any type of “internet meme” as reported on several political blogs. Although, they do think that it is funny that this spiraled into “D—ks out for Harambe.”
After letting the combination of professors calling for expulsion, the women’s study department posting non-bipartisan Facebook posts, and rumors from students that class discussion in this department was hostile, combined with meeting the two protesters and hearing their story all sink in, I have come to the conclusion that I am extremely disappointed with the environment our community has created over the past month. If you are a professor with students as friends on Facebook, your time with students extends past the classroom and a bipartisan stance needs to continue in a place any student has access to. My past three, almost four years at UNH have been wonderful. I have raved about how great the community is in almost all of my editorials; however, nothing is perfect and this is a weakness that we need to seriously focus and work on, starting now.
The mere fact that this family has been burdened with the fear that they will be scrutinized for practicing free speech is very disappointing. If you have kept up with my editorials, you know that I am all about the first amendment and free speech. These protesters aside, we need to step back and remember that UNH has been about “inclusivity” and “safe spaces to share ideas,” and this is far from being open to either of these. Obviously hateful speech is unacceptable, but just because someone has conservative views or voted for Trump does not make their opinions or outlook less valid, and it has come to the point where this environment has caused many people with conservative views to be perceived as villains, and I believe it has silenced many of these voices on campus.
I know that I have had my fair share of liberal editorials, but I have also made it clear that we want to hear all student opinions. I have made it clear that these are my ideas and not the entire staff’s or the stance of the paper as a whole. Yet, not one “from the right” column or conservative letter to the editor has been submitted in over a year. UNH, we need to truly open these spaces to share ideas. This is the only way we will learn is to hear others with different outlooks on the world. With 2017 just weeks away, let us make it our UNH New Year’s resolution to open our ears and minds to all views and opinions.
Happy New Year,