A student group hosts an event on a sensitive topic, with a one-sided panel. Students who disagree are appalled. Attempts are made to cancel the event, protesters assemble to voice their grievances, and a vicious debate rages online. 

This happened last year with the College Republicans’ event, “Religious Extremism in the Middle East.”

It’s also happening this year, with College Republicans’ Tibet and Uighur events.

But while last year popular opinion leaned in favor of the protestors, this year the protestors are being widely vilified.

We know these two aren’t exactly the same. The Tibet and Uighur controversies has the added layer of a confrontation in Starbucks that indicated intolerance to the presence of Tibetan monks. That’s not okay. 

And it would be unfair not to acknowledge that “Religious Extremism in the Middle East” took place not long after the New Zealand shootings of two mosques.

But the truth is that, in both of these cases, all parties involved had fundamental rights. Student organizations have the right to hold these events. People who are opposed have the right to protest. 

This is the case, even when you don’t agree with one of the parties. 

Having said that, it’s also important to understand that the issues of Tibetan democracy and the mass imprisonment of Uighurs in China are important and sensitive and deserve to be treated with thought and empathy.

It’s also important to say that some actions involved — the poster saying “‘Freedom or Terrorism?” and the confrontation in Starbucks — were not taken with thought or empathy. 

Those qualities are also lacking in the treatment of many students involved in the online discussion.

 All students — and all people — are their own. But many look at the students who posted the flyers as representative of CSA (which isn’t true) and all Chinese students on campus (which also isn’t true). 

Chinese students are a large percentage of UR’s population. You can’t conflate all their thoughts, opinions, and ideas on anything — especially not something as sensitive as Tibet. 

An example:

This was a racist and stupid meme criticizing CSA’s supposed lack of response to the Tiananmen Square massacre, something that happened 30 years ago that the campus group — whose members were not alive at the time — had nothing to do with.

Disturbingly, nobody called this meme out. 

Discourse about this issue is important, even welcome. But you need to be civil, open-minded, and humble. Not being racist helps.

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