Hundreds of New York City high school and college students followed in Betsy DeVos’ footsteps on Tuesday by not going to public school. Students walked out of school at 12 p.m. to meet at Foley Square in Manhattan to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration policy, along with Devos’ confirmation as Trump’s education secretary, according to a Huffington Post article.
With protests occurring in schools, Plattsburgh State is taking action to provide voices for students who may feel like they aren’t being heard.
Plattsburgh State hosted an open forum to engage in education and conversation about the difference between free speech and hate speech. Violence Prevention Educator and Outreach Coordinator Dinai Robertson and PSUC students Nick Kelly and Vrinda Kumar facilitated the forum this past Wednesday, as they started with a short informational session on the topic, followed by an open forum to discuss any concerns or questions that students may have.
“I’ve come to realize that students just want to be heard, so when we provided safe spaces like this, we may not have to have riots and protests,” Robertson said. “We can have this dialogue. Instead of walking out of your class, raise your hand and tell your teacher ‘This is how I’m feeling.’”
Robertson said people have been struggling with the difference between free speech and hate speech, and during such a complex time, people might not be listening to one another.
“A lot of the times, the riots are happening because people feel like they aren’t being heard,” she said. “ Realistically, if I’m protesting out in the snow and I’ve got my sign, and I’m screaming. I know you’re not listening to me, and I want to be heard. I want you to hear that I’m there. This was to skip that step and save that energy for actual action.”
The forum started out with a definition of the first amendment, along with its historical significance.
Next, faculty pulled up a Youtube clip, where a speaker discussed the difference between hearing and listening.
“In the past, administration has put on forums, where they speak about their feelings, and they speak about their political views and everything of that nature,” Robertson said. “They just speak to just kind of speak. And not really listen to what each other is saying.”
Robertson stressed the importance of trying to make a space where people can feel safe. She said that if people don’t listen to one another, then it becomes difficult to find common ground.
“If we listen to what other people are saying, then everyone will kind of be on the same page and understand that we’re also human beings, and we have compassion so there’s no need to fight essentially,” she said.
After the video, students were asked to go into three large groups to have an open forum among each other. Junior sociology and criminal justice major Zyaijah Nadler went to the forum and discussed how she felt. Students were asked to talk about how they feel about free speech among the community, and Nadler said she felt hopeful, scared and confused.
“Confused because there are people in high positions who are completely not qualified, and a good majority of the world can attest to that,” Nadler said. “I’m in school paying thousands of dollars for a position that I want to be qualified in when someone who isn’t qualified is in that position.”
The next part of the forum included a discussion about a time when they felt the free flow of conversation went wrong.
“I think hate speech and free speech is misconstrued a lot. I think there’s a very fine line,” Nadler said. “People don’t really understand it , and even so with myself — there’s some things I don’t see. There is clear hate speech, why aren’t people being informed of this?”
Nadler brought up one instance. She said she was watching a film similar to the new Netflix hit “13th.” The movie revolves around race and inequality, according to Fortune.com. Nadler said after class, there was one student who was confused.
“He didn’t understand why the slaves in the South didn’t just move to the North because the North was just so much better off in his head,” she said. “I was able to see how he went on with his life without ever encountering these issues and when the professor was trying to explain it, he wasn’t listening.”
Nadler said she felt that active listening is especially important today. She learned that active listening is a skill that some people don’t possess . She said a lot of the time, people are simply hearing.
“You think oh, I can repeat this to someone and that means I’m being a good listener,” she said. “But in reality, people need to be engaged.”
Nadler said these forums are crucial, but they are only a stepping stone for change. She said a more important step is the action plan. That was the final stage of the forum. People were asked to talk about what to do next. Nadler said she thinks it’s important to have other faculty members get involved, rather than have the same ones represent at these types of forums.
“On campus, everyone is confused, but no one knows what to do.There’s a lot of built up confusion,” Nadler said. “A lot of people are tired and they want action, and that’s a great spot to be in. That’s why I’m hopeful.”
Saturday evening, an estimated 2,000 protesters gathered in front of the Trump Tower in West Palm Beach for a march that would take them near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, which has become known as the Winter White House, according to an article in USA Today. Many protesters are concerned of losing their LGBTQ rights and and for refugees from war-torn Muslim countries subject to Trump’s travel ban. However, many people were heartened when Homeland Security suspended the travel ban, according to an article in CNN.
“When you’re watching the TV, you see protesters. And protests don’t typically happen when you’re just standing outside with one or two people, protests happen when you have a really strong group,” she said. “They want you to hear.”
Email Kavita Singh at firstname.lastname@example.org