Prof: punishing protesters promotes 'white supremacy'

A University of Southern California professor recently argued that punishing protesters who disrupt conservative speakers can reinforce “white supremacy.”

Charles H.F. Davis, a professor of education at USC, argued in an essay for Inside Higher Ed that punishing protesters contributes to white supremacy because it can unfairly “suppress and criminalize” students, especially in light of protesters’ valiant goals.

For example, Davis argues against punishing students who shouted down a recent Ben Shapiro talk at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, since students were fighting against “racist rhetoric advanced by Shapiro.”

In an interview with Campus Reform, Davis explained that “punishing protesters unfairly criminalizes students,” and that colleges who do so “run the risk of creating an unsafe and threatening environment.”

Davis defines protesters as those who “use disruptive tactics to shut down hate speech as well as those holding signs, protesting outside of speaker venues, and engaged in other forms of resistance against white supremacy.”

Students who protest “are disproportionately students of color and students representing other marginalized groups,” Davis noted. “Issuing a punishment, especially in these cases, is a clear form of criminalization by deeming protest unacceptable,” he added.

Further, while hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, Davis warns that colleges should “resist the constant conflation of hate speech and free speech,” adding that this is justified because hate speech is “violent and invites violence, which should not be allowed on-campus.”

The violence seen in Charlottesville, Virginia and Berkeley, California earlier this year, seen when far-right speakers clashed with protesters, is indicative of this potential for violence, Davis notes

Instead of punishing protesters, Davis encourages senior leaders to “spend substantive time listening to student protesters’ concerns.”

“Within the past two academic years, more than 100 student collectives issued demands to their respective institutions,” he said, arguing that many colleges have exacerbated racial issues by “allowing the presence of white supremacy on-campus.”

Thus, protesters should be listened to, not punished, he argues.

“By taking up a punitive approach to what is clearly a demand for greater racial equity and inclusion, administrators demonstrate they are more concerned with criminalizing those who labor in the name of justice than addressing real issues with material consequences for students of color,” he concluded.

Davis is also the Chief Strategy Office at the USC Race and Equity Center, which was designed to unite professors “whose scholarship focuses on people of color, racial inequities, immigration and related topics.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen