Amherst students demand protection from 'hurtful' ideas

Students at Amherst College recently protested the mere presence of a conservative speaker, saying students shouldn’t have to “feel afraid for their safety.”

The letter was prompted by a recent panel hosted by the Amherst College Republicans on "Why Military Action After 9/11 was Justified," which included a former radio host known for highlighting the relationship between Islam and terrorism.

Students at Amherst College recently protested the mere presence of a conservative speaker, saying students shouldn’t have to “feel afraid for their safety.”

They found the speaker, Michael Graham, offensive and unqualified because he was fired from his talk radio show twelve years ago after repeatedly pointing out the relationship between Islam and terrorism.

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Graham, notably, was only one of several speakers on a panel titled, "Why Military Action After 9/11 Was Justified and Saved American Lives," which also included military veteran and State Representative John Velis; the state commander for the Department of Massachusetts Veterans of Foreign Wars, Eric Segundo; and Robert Roughsedge, an Army officer and commentator who served in Afghanistan in a NATO command.

In an open letter last week, members of the Muslim Students Association, the South Asian Students Association, and others say that they felt like their physical safety was at stake as a result of the Graham’s participation in the panel.

“No student should ever have to feel afraid for their safety or have to wake up in the morning knowing that there are other students on this campus who hate them for an integral part of their identity and are willing and able to voice these hurtful ideas on a public platform,” the letter declares.

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Not only does the letter demand that the administration protect students from speakers with “hateful” opinions, it also declared that the Amherst College Republicans (ACR) should have consulted with other identity-based student groups like the Muslim Students Association and the South Asian Students Association before inviting speakers to campus.

Doing so “would have been conducive to finding a productive and appropriate speaker qualified to speak on this topic while still keeping the perspective that ACR wanted to share through this event,” the letter contends.

Additionally, the signatories assert that ACR should have written “a public response to the student body and the affected groups promptly after the event,” concluding that “an apology is warranted.”

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Following the discussion, Graham told MassLive that "everyone was civil,” and described it as "what I think we hope is happening on college campuses—the passionate, thoughtful exchange of ideas."

"The College's commitment to freedom of expression generally means we must allow students the freedom to host speakers, including those whose speech may be offensive to many, as long as it does not constitute an incitement to violence or pose a threat to physical safety,” Amherst College spokesperson Caroline Hanna remarked in a statement.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @KyleOnCampus