Clemson students challenge ‘Black Out’ protesters

Student speech advocates are asking Clemson University to enforce state law and its own policies with respect to the students who occupied an administration building last week.

In response to the racially-motivated hanging of bananas from a banner on campus commemorating African-American history, a student group called See The Stripes organized a “#StudentBlackOut” rally Wednesday to reiterate its previous demands for diversity initiatives, implicitly blaming the incident on the university’s failure to implement measures such as increased funding for minority student groups or hiring more faculty of color.

In addition, the group is demanding “a public commitment from the Clemson University Administration to prosecute criminally predatory behaviors and defamatory speech committed by members of the Clemson University community (including, but not limited to, those facilitated by usage of social media).”

[RELATED: Clemson students worry ‘banana banner’ will lead to free speech setbacks]

Prior to the demonstration, an open forum was held Tuesday evening to discuss the banana incident, during which Associate English prof. Rhondda Robinson Thomas called for mandatory diversity and inclusivity courses for all students.

“I teach African-American Lit, so if you’re in my classes—and some of my students are here—you know the hard questions we ask and the difficult conversations we [have],” she remarked. “My students are saying, ‘Dr. T, we need every student at Clemson to take these classes, because everybody needs to have the opportunity to have these discussions on a regular basis.’”

Thomas said she agreed with that sentiment, arguing that without such a requirement, incidents such as the banana banner will continue to occur.

“You should not graduate from Clemson without grappling with these issues of diversity and inclusivity in your classroom,” she declared. “It doesn’t matter your discipline; everybody needs to do it.”

As documented on the group’s Facebook page, the protesters marched from the scene of the makeshift fruit stand to Sikes Hall at noon, but within an hour, they had grown “ tired of waiting” and proceeded to occupy the school’s administrative offices, pledging to stay until their demands are met.

When Sikes Hall closed at 5:30 Wednesday evening, the occupiers allowed themselves to be locked in rather than abandon the sit-in, but were told the following day that a repeat performance would result in disciplinary action. Five students defied the order to leave and received citations for trespassing Thursday night, but the demonstration has continued uninterrupted outside the building, with tents reportedly donated by the Campus Recreation Department, according to The Tiger.

Clayton Warnke, president of Clemson’s Young Americans for Liberty chapter and co-founder of a recently-formed coalition called WeRoar that advocates for the restoration of free speech at Clemson, became concerned that the sit-in would eventually lead to crackdowns on student speech rights in the name of tolerance.

[RELATED: Students petition Clemson to eliminate speech restrictions]

Warnke told Campus Reform that he and other WeRoar leaders compiled a list of the university policies that the protesters had violated, which they presented to Provost Robert Jones Thursday morning.

Contrasting the actions of sit-in participants with their own fastidious observance of the very rules they are protesting against, WeRoar pointed out that the See The Stripes protesters had violated policies requiring prior approval for signs and banners, prohibiting conduct that “has the intent or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s or group’s educational or work performance at Clemson University,” and banning any student from “[occupying] any University facility that has not been reserved through the appropriate University offices.”

Warnke said a follow-up meeting has been scheduled for Monday, after which the group will decide how to proceed, though he noted that they haven’t ruled out any options, including legal action.

Zachariah Talley, editor of The Tiger Town Observer, the conservative student newspaper on campus, told Campus Reform that See The Stripes leaders are also scheduled to meet with administrators Monday, and likewise plan to base their future actions on the outcome.

“My understanding is that if they do not leave that meeting happy about the administration's plan to make Clemson a ‘more inclusive and diverse university,’ the NAACP has already been contacted about next steps,” he said.

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