Political expression in an entitled generation

I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of family members contacting me telling me to be safe because news of recent Trent happenings have spread around social media. I’ve had enough of hearing that students feel unsafe leaving their dorms for anything other than to get food, or that they are too scared to go to class. For this reason, I am speaking out.

We come from a generation who believes we are entitled to a lot. Like, a lot. Because of technological advances that have occurred since the last generation, we feel entitled to live an easier life than our predecessors. We suffer from an I want it, and I want it now mentality that has skewed our view on what is actually our right. It is a mentality that makes us believe we can use anything as an excuse to support what we believe we can do. Recently, Trent students have been using the excuse of “political expression” and “freedom of speech” as an excuse for their actions—and what’s worse is that Trent is reinforcing this excuse. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is no such thing as freedom of speech or that we should never debate our opinions. I’m saying that while debate is healthy and we all have freedom of speech, there are limitations that are outlined in the law. Debate should never be confused with harassment.

Now, I know that I’m going to get mixed reviews for using this as an example, but it’s true and needs to pointed out.

Let us discuss those that call themselves Trump supporters. Now, I say that they call themselves Trump supporters as opposed to actually being Trump supporters mostly because a) I believe you can’t truly support a political party if you aren’t able to actually vote for them and b) the label of “Trump supporter” on this campus is being used as a shield for people misusing political expression to fuel their own desire to stir up shit without repercussions. I’m going to focus on the latter issue.

Without naming names, people on campus who are very expressive about being so-called Trump supporters, i.e. wearing Trump hats or sporting other Trump memorabilia, are the ones that are very aggressively using this identity as a shield for their actions. They claim to be using their freedom of speech to politically express themselves when they terrorize and harass others, disrupt class and make people fearful of a space that once prided itself as being a beacon of acceptance. So it is to those people that I would like to say this:

  1. The phrase “freedom of speech” having the word freedom in it does not mean it comes without its limits. To quote the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “freedom of expression in Canada is not absolute; rather, it can be limited to promote other values that are considered to be of greater social importance.” Some of these values are limitations of hate propaganda and discrimination, which are made to protect Canadians from being victims of discrimination and hate due to being part of an identifiable group which is defined in the Charter as “any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” So to those of you thinking that you could use this law as a way to say I’m discriminating against you a) I’m not saying all Trump supporters are like this and b) political party affiliation is not an identifiable group according to the law.
  1. Actions are not the same as speech. For example, let us create a hypothetical situation where someone is standing outside of a classroom with a Trump flag. This is an action, not a form of communication as defined in the Charter, meaning that if they were to use the excuse of “I’m simply using my freedom of speech”, not only does it not apply to this situation because it is an action, but it also isn’t an excuse as stated in my first point.
  1. Finally, stop believing that just because Donald Trump can get away with it, you can too. The reason you’re experiencing so much backlash is because we as a student body aren’t going to sit back and let you harass us. I’m telling you now: you aren’t going to get away with it. We’re going to make sure of that.

Now that I’ve addressed the Trump supporters, I now speak to Trent administration. When you issue a statement that says “…such freedom does not permit everything, but it does incorporate the freedom of discussion and debate for students and faculty on complex and sometimes difficult issues. The university urges all involved in such debate to pursue it in a respectful and responsible manner,” you are becoming part of the problem. You are confusing debate with harassment and giving bullies an excuse for their actions. You are saying that it is ok to do what they are doing and you are saying that publicly. In no way is following someone, or shouting racist slurs or running through campus promoting sexual assault a “respectful” pursuit of debate. So stop trying to defend it as such.

Now I speak to the victims of this discrimination and those who feel that our campus has become a place where you are not safe. We are with you. We are fighting for you. We are here to protect you and we will not stand by and let this happen anymore. Excuses for this hate will not be tolerated. Disruption of your right to an education will not be tolerated. And most importantly, a disrespect for your safety and how you feel will not be tolerated. We hear your stories and we believe them. Do not think that what you have faced does not matter. You matter. Your safety matters.