Greek Tree vandalism violates freedom of speech

T he Geneseo College Republicans recently painted the Greek Tree in Sturges Quad, a famed Geneseo tradition often used to advertise campus organizations.

They painted the letters “GOP” and a checked box next to former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich’s name, signaling their dissatisfaction with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as the head of their party’s ticket.

The paint had barely dried, however, before someone subsequently spray painted over the tree the next night—not to advertise their organization, but instead to simply tarnish the former group’s work. The tree was covered in black spray paint and some crudely drawn faces. Not only is this immature behavior, but it is also damaging to our campus environment—an environment that should be promoting freedom of speech and thought.

I am not a Republican, but I am horrified and dismayed at the candidacy of Trump and the Republican Party’s complacency in letting him take control of their party. The GCR, however, have not endorsed Trump and are equally as appalled at his candidacy, as they expressed in their Thursday Nov. 3 Lamron article “Clinton, Trump both unworthy candidates for endorsement.”

Free speech is a right that must be protected, whether or not someone disagrees with it. The GCR are an on-campus organization that has a right to advertise their organization on the Greek Tree.

Some may argue that the Greek Tree should only be painted by Greek Life organizations, or that the tree should be apolitical—but that’s an irrelevant argument.

It’s critical for our generation to accept the fact that people who disagree with each other have a right to voice their opposing opinions without being attacked. There’s a tendency among many young liberals to shame and attack someone for having a dissenting opinion instead of simply having open conversation about differences.

American colleges have long been a place of free thought and new ideas, and a place where young people debate on what path our country and society should take. While great ideas still permeate our college campuses, free and open debate seem to have stalled. Those with unpopular opinions are often afraid of being shamed for their beliefs and decide not to speak out on what they believe in.

We are not going to progress as a country if we decide that only certain beliefs are valid, or that only some ideas are worth hearing. There are, of course, legitimate examples of hateful, discriminatory speech that has no place on our campus, but common free and open discussion should be encouraged.

Personally, I like a lot of things about our campus culture and much of the things we’ve done to foster an inclusive community here at Geneseo. But we still need to offer that same inclusivity to people with whom we disagree. It’s not productive to publicly shame someone for a difference in opinion or a lack of understanding of a new cultural concept.

We should all make an honest attempt to understand the point of view of people who disagree with us instead of shutting them out of the discussion. Tearing down someone else’s right to freely express their beliefs is not a statement or an expression of an argument.

This behavior is cowardly and has no place on our campus.