Crackdown or compromise? A tale of two US campus protests

In recent years, campus protests have become a common sight at universities across the United States. From calls for racial justice to demands for greater protections for marginalized groups, students have been mobilizing in increasing numbers to make their voices heard on pressing societal issues.

Two recent protests, however, have highlighted the divergent approaches that universities can take in response to student activism. The first protest took place at Yale University in 2015, when students organized demonstrations and sit-ins in response to a perceived lack of action on racial justice issues by university administrators. The second protest occurred at the University of California, Berkeley in 2017, when students and faculty alike took to the streets to protest a scheduled appearance by controversial right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos.

At Yale, the campus protest ultimately led to some concessions from university administrators. The university announced plans to increase funding for diversity initiatives, hire more faculty of color, and rename a residential college that was named after a prominent defender of slavery. While these changes were seen as a victory for the protesters, some critics argued that the university had caved to the demands of a vocal minority and that the compromise had stifled free speech on campus.

In contrast, the protest at UC Berkeley ended in violence and chaos, with protesters setting fires, vandalizing buildings, and clashing with police. The university ultimately canceled Yiannopoulos’ speech, citing security concerns, but the resort to violence was widely condemned by both sides of the political spectrum. Some argued that the protesters’ actions had infringed on Yiannopoulos’ right to free speech, while others defended the protesters’ right to express their opposition to his views.

These two protests illustrate the difficult balance that universities must strike between upholding free speech and ensuring the safety and well-being of their students. While compromise can lead to positive change and foster a sense of inclusivity on campus, it can also be seen as capitulating to the demands of a vocal minority. On the other hand, crackdowns on protests can be seen as a violation of students’ rights to free speech and assembly, but they may also be necessary to maintain order and prevent violence.

Ultimately, the question of how universities should respond to campus protests is a complex and contentious one. While compromise and dialogue are essential components of a healthy democracy, so too are the rights to free speech and peaceful protest. It is up to universities to navigate these competing interests and find a balance that respects the rights of all members of the campus community.

Scroll to Top