The recent unveiling of this group during an unsanctioned protest outside of the McGinley Student Center raises a very important question: When your university is an institution that intimidates people into working anonymously in the first place, what does that say about the culture of free speech on your campus?
Of course, this is prefaced by the fact that members of SAGES felt that they could be safe coming out of anonymity. For this, we commend Fordham’s administration. However, with this commendation, it seems that that free speech on campus seems to be a privilege, not a right. Even the language that Dean of Students Christoper Rogers uses when he talks about the protests implies “allowing” the protest to go on instead of shutting it down.
Members of SAGES revealed themselves after getting over 1,100 signatures to support its cause. This is a crucial point because it is clear that the administration cannot realistically punish all of the 1,100 students who agree with SAGES. It is more accurate to say that members of SAGES revealed themselves not because Fordham made them feel safe, but because their fellow students stood in solidarity with them.
Fordham’s disapproval of SAGES was made very clear in the Office of Student Leadership and Community Development’s (O.S.L.C.D.) response to its condom drop at Senior Night: “Secret protests are fun, but at college, we debate ideas rather than litter about them…try some Fordham values this Homecoming: open debate and respect for beliefs and traditions of others.”
Inviting someone who is clearly not respect to debate is abusive and patronizing. It also portrays a fundamental misunderstanding of speech: There is no forum for real debate and talking into the air does not get anything done, so this is SAGES’ way to facilitate discussion.
The idea that an institution of higher learning like Fordham would so frighten a bunch of students trying to have a discussion about basic human rights is not only ridiculously hypocritical, but also quite terrifying. It seems obvious that SAGES needed to operate anonymously because there is no other effective recourse to have their voices be heard. There is no effective structured system in which people with opposing views can expect to be heard at Fordham and by the university community; therefore, the only way to be heard is to go outside the structured system of debate and do something that sparks conversation and a dialogue throughout the Fordham community.