Liberal student calls out peers for 'superficial activism'
A Columbia University student is urging classmates to demand that the school cancel conservative speakers and tear down a Thomas Jefferson statue to combat “white nationalists.”
In an op-ed for The Columbia Spectator Monday, Heven Haile, a board member of the school’s Black Students’ Organization, called out the “empty activism from privileged folk, namely white liberals, driven by the desire to gain social capital” that she sees on campus.
Written in response to the recent lecture by Tommy Robinson, who was repeatedly shouted down by protesters during an event last week, Haile tells her peers that it is “not enough to merely oppose [Donald] Trump or white nationalists” through “superficial activism” because “We need policies, initiatives, real change.”
Rather than protesting events like the Robinson speech, Haile urges her classmates to “write to Columbia administrators advising them to cancel the [Columbia College Republicans] speaker series,” adding that they should also demand that the school “refrain from punishing students who protested Tommy Robinson’s hate speech.”
The Columbia Republicans hosted Tommy Robinson and Herman Cain this earlier this month, and plan to host other well-known conservatives such as Mike Cernovich, Jack Abramoff, and Dennis Prager in upcoming weeks.
Haile also calls for the removal of a Thomas Jefferson statue on campus, a common demand in recent years. Just last April, for instance, the student group Mobilized African Diaspora (MAD) covered the Thomas Jefferson statue with a KKK hood and published an open letter claiming that the statue celebrates “the legacy of a man who is the epitome of white supremacy.”
Less obvious is the motivation behind Haile’s other demand that the iconic Butler Library be renamed.
The library’s benefactor, Nicholas Murray Butler, has often been portrayed as a Nazi sympathizer, but persistent concerns have also been raised about the library’s honoring of “dead white men,” as its facade is inscribed with the name of Greek scholars, such as Plato, Herodotus, and Aristotle, and two years ago, students created a petition demanding that the library be renamed The Judith Butler Library in honor of a well-known feminist theorist.
In the wake of the Tommy Robinson speech last Tuesday, students have published at least half a dozen op-eds on the issue, most of which condemn the Columbia Republicans, and since Robinson was prevented from delivering his speech, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has listed the protest as a successful heckler's veto in its Disinvitation Database.
At least a handful of protesters were threatened with disciplinary action by Suzanne Goldberg, the school’s Rules Administrator, according to emails obtained by the Spectator in which Goldberg implies that they may have committed a “serious” violation of the student code of conduct, and that expulsion is a potential sanction.
In light of this, Haile calls for Goldberg to refrain from punishing the students who prevented Robinson from speaking. As of press time, more than 3,620 students and community members have also signed a petition urging the administration to drop charges against the protesters.
While many students, not just Haile, have called for the administration to cancel the rest of the Columbia Republican’s speaker series, Ari Boosalis, the club’s president, is confident that the school will not cave.
“We will host these events. We wouldn't back down to these demands,” he told Campus Reform, vowing that “once we announce our events, we always host them.”
Neither Haile nor Columbia University responded to multiple media inquiries from Campus Reform for this article.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen