Ginny

Ginny Whitehouse, EKU professor of journalism, media law and media ethics. (Photo courtesy of EKU Department of Communication)

The greatest tragedy of President Trump’s visit is how many of our students cannot safely attend the rally without fear of at best being mocked, and at worse, assaulted.

The 1,600-plus Eastern students who are not white are free to enter Alumni Coliseum on Saturday if they can get a ticket, but they do so at their own peril. I wish things were different, but recent history tells us students of color have reason to fear.

Two years ago in Louisville, Henry Brousseau, Kashiya Nwanguma and Molly Shah were assaulted, pushed, and shoved at a Trump rally when then-candidate Trump repeatedly urged his supporters to “get ‘em out of here.” Like others, they went to protest, but the color of their skin made them easy targets.

White protestors can wear a T-shirt that reads “Twitler” and a hat that says, “Resist.” But they can also change their clothes and walk through the crowd in obscurity.

Then, there are students in wheelchairs and students who are deaf. Will the president mock the way they use their hands to speak? The National Center for Education Statistics reports that between 10 and 12 percent of undergraduate students have some kind of disability. That’s another 1,600 or so Eastern students who might be targeted, though all of their disabilities might not be visible.

And then, there are the women and men who have been sexually assaulted. The president mocked Supreme Court Associate Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser just last week. The U.S. Justice Department conservatively estimates that 6 percent of college students have experienced sexual assault. There are another 900 to 1,000 students.

If there were no overlap, over 4,000 Eastern students could find themselves belittled by the president of the United States when he comes to visit their campus.

And finally, there are the students in my own department – the student journalists – who will try to tell the story of the president’s visit. The president has called them the enemy of the people.

Trump is coming. We cannot change that. The best remedy for bad speech is not to shut it down, but to counter it with more speech. 

Back in the 1970s, a bunch of American Nazis decided that the best way to explain their version of Holocaust denial was to march through Skokie, Illinois, the home of many Holocaust survivors. 

The Supreme Court stated, “It is better to allow those who preach racial hate to expend their venom in rhetoric rather than to be panicked into embarking on the dangerous course of permitting the government to decide what its citizens may say and hear.” 

It is terrifying that the venom that may fall on Richmond next week may come from our own government’s leadership. 

I could walk into the rally next week safely, as long as I didn’t wear press credentials. I am not a sexual assault victim. I do not have a disability. I am white. 

But, I would not bring my children, who are not white. I would not feel safe to bring as many as a quarter of my students, not because they might be offended but because they almost certainly will be belittled. That is the tragedy of President Trump’s visit.

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