According to a poll ran by USA Today, 77 percent of American citizens perceive the country as being more divided than ever. Recently, we’ve seen a number of events that may be increasing that divide both close to home here at Stout and all across the nation.
Students at University of Wisconsin-Stout are still mourning the loss of one of our own. Hussain Alnahdi passed away after an altercation on Halloween night in 2016. As he was a student from Saudi Arabia, some students believed Alnahdi’s death was the result of a hate crime. While there has yet to be evidence provided by the courts to confirm this, the controversial argument still stands. This tragedy, among other events that have taken place in the past year, further the argument of whether or not racism still exists in our country.
In May, the Leader-Telegram reported that a student at Menomonie High School hid a coded message in his yearbook quote. The quote read,
“Ib has a tiny earning, but leaves a crisp kid satisfied.”
Which, at first glance, is a strange quote that doesn’t seem to hold much value. However if you take the first letter of each word, the racist message can be found. When confronted, the student claimed it was “just a prank.” Said student was then suspended and the yearbook had to be reprinted without the message.
Among these events, there was also the controversial movement of historical paintings in Harvey Hall. The 80-year-old paintings depicting Native American and French fur traders were deemed unacceptable for public viewing by Chancellor Bob Meyer in August, after a student claimed that the paintings were causing negative emotions.
Wisconsin Public Radio, website article about this decision, the Chancellor was quoted to say, “There’s a segment of Native American students, that when they look at the art, to them it symbolizes an era of their history where land and possessions were taken away from them, and they feel bad when they look at them.”
Even at Yale University, officials removed historical paintings from their dining halls in January of 2016. This occurred quickly and without much student involvement happening prior to the actual removal.
Finally came the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia this past May, where white nationalists and/or members of the alt-right gathered to protest the government’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the confederate head general from the Civil War. The riots caused the death of a 32 year old woman who was counter-protesting, as well as two members of Virginia law-enforcement. The protesters fighting for the statues to remain claimed that the removal of these monuments would be an attempt at erasing history and their southern pride, not a symbol of white supremacy and pro-slavery as others may see it.
Generally speaking, these events have two sides: facts or feelings. One side may argue that if something is harmful to view or causes negative emotions, it should be removed, while the other can argue that facts don’t care about their feelings, and removing these symbols does not mean that these things did not happen. The short-term answer for these controversies is easier than the long-term fix, but only time will tell what that long-term solution will be.