Students say they feel 'threatened' by conservative views

Students at Hood College want a temporary display put up by the College Republicans chapter to be taken down early because they feel "threatened" by some of the "hateful" quotes from conservatives.

The display was originally intended to encourage discussion on controversial issues such as abortion and gender identity, but is instead being met with criticism, anger, and even vandalism, The Frederick News-Post reports.

Some students and faculty feel that the displays are “hateful,” and have been calling for their removal, even though the rotating display is scheduled to be changed Tuesday.

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A quotation from notable conservative political commentator and writer Ben Shapiro has drawn particular ire for questioning the sanity of transgender individuals.

“Transgender people are unfortunately suffering from a significant mental illness, and it is not a solution to pretend that transgender people are the sex that they think they are in their head,” the quote states. “Biology is biology; men can’t magically become women and women can’t magically become men.”

Hanan Zinab, president of the Hood Black Student Union, said that in her opinion, the quote is not “freedom of speech” but “freedom of hatred.”

Lynda Sowbel, a director and professor of the college’s social work program, similarly contended that “some of these things might make students who are here feel threatened, and that’s not OK.”

Another poster addressed the issue of abortion, including a photo of a black female toddler and the words “Let’s talk about race ... abortion is the number one killer of black lives in the United States,” while another asserted that “the most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.”

According to the CR’s, the school’s Student Life office originally approved the display.

Kris Fair, a Hood alumni who was president of the college’s LGBTQ club as a student, condemned the display as “an unfounded piece of propaganda.”

Fair, who is also a Democratic candidate for Alderman in Frederick, said that the college should review “what it means to allow free speech,” explaining that he believes there should be “requirements for some respect behind the language you’re using.”

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College President Andrea Chapdelaine originally sent an email to students, faculty, and staff Wednesday to address the concerns expressed by students, faculty and alumni, several of whom had called for the removal of the display in advance of its scheduled replacement on Tuesday.

Chapdelaine said that “as an educational community, our best response is not with the act of taking down a display, but in how to move forward,” and invited students, faculty, and alumni to attend a forum organized by students on Sunday.

In a follow-up email sent on Thursday, Chapdelaine said that the college will be examining the messages based on “college procedures” to determine whether the display violated any of school policies, “with appropriate sanctions to follow if such a determination be made,” but did not elaborate on the nature of those sanctions.

CR President Christopher Gardner countered that the displays weren’t intended to offend anyone, saying, “We just wanted to provoke thoughtful discussion. We have done that.”

On Thursday, however, one-third of the display was vandalized by an unidentified individual, and is now being guarded by a campus security officer.

The CR chapter told Campus Reform in an exclusive statement that its members have also felt targeted by the administration.

“The intent of this display was to help encourage constructive political discourse on campus, by exposing students to viewpoints that they may not hear otherwise. We have been fortunate enough to have many great conversations with people of different backgrounds and ideologies the past couple days,” the statement began. “Despite this, some of the more controversial aspects, mainly the ones pertaining to abortion and transgenderism, have been under fire by certain students, faculty members, school administrators, and the community at large.”

Noting that “the display has already been vandalized and covered up on multiple occasions so far by rogue actors,” the club speculated that Chapdelaine’s remarks had given implicit encouragement to such behavior.

“We firmly believe that an email sent out by the school’s President saying that she ‘fully shares’ the ‘anger and dismay’ felt by the community has added additional credibility to their destructive actions,” the club asserted. “Also, in her email she directed all criticism to us for not voluntarily removing it ourselves, while also publicly threatening us with potential policy violations for policies we did not break.”

[RELATED: ‘Blue Lives Matter’ display vandalized by BLM supporters at Dartmouth]

“The handling of the situation by the school has demonstrated the extreme bias against free speech and diversity of thought for conservative views on campus, saying that the espousing of such views was offensive and dangerous,” the statement continued. “The administration has also tried to claim that we have been committing harassment and discrimination simply by expressing such views on paper.”

The club did acknowledge that “campus safety and certain members of the Student Life center have been very supportive in helping us deal with this situation,” but expressed concern that the lack of rhetorical support from the administration would extend to future instances of controversial expression.

“We hope this experience can be learned from and that constructive political debate and free speech will prevail on campus,” the statement concluded. “We are simply responding to the demonization we have faced by certain members of the community, including members of the administration.”

According to the club, administrators were even more vocal in their criticism during private meetings, claiming that the display violated a school policy on harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence.

When members disputed that characterization, arguing that their display did not match the definitions used in that policy, they say administrators told them that the display was "hurting people and denying them of their person-hood," and should therefore be taken down for the good of the campus.

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Hood’s Executive Director of Marketing and Communications, Laurie Ward, told Campus Reform that the community forum would be moderated by faculty members, remarking that all sides could learn more from civil debate and discussion.

Ward also confirmed that Campus Safety has identified the student who vandalized the display, adding that it has already been fixed and restored.

Ward concluded by expressing hope for a return to civility and productive discussion, noting that the College Republicans and College Democrats have had productive debates all semester on a wide variety of issues, such as abortion and immigration.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AutumnDawnPrice