Jewish World Review Feb. 20, 2003 / 18 Adar I, 5763

Tresa McBee

Tresa McBee
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Aggie agitation: Not exactly Kent State


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Who knew wimpiness could infect macho Texas? Must be the transplants. How else to explain protesters who require a noise-free protest?

The alleged ruckus took place earlier this month at Texas A&M, home of the Aggies in College Station. Berkeley, this is not. Or it didn't use to be.

Following a Feb. 3 campus protest against war with Iraq, many of the same people held a vigil later that day at the Lawrence Sullivan Ross statue. As A&M's student newspaper, The Battalion, notes, the area around Sul Ross is one of three free-speech zones where university-recognized student groups may gather. Such zones have become popular in recent years with campuscrats interested in controlling the flow of free discourse by dictating where and when speech may take place and, ultimately, who hears it. Exactly what a university experience should be all about.

At the same time the protesters were gathered in their university-designated speech zone, the Ross Volunteer Honor Corps association was conducting its daily training. The Corps is a select division of the Texas A&M Corps that serves as the honor guard for Texas' governor. Every Monday and Wednesday, as The Examiner magazine reports, the Ross Volunteers meet at the Sul Ross statue to train and remember their namesake. Ross was a 19th-century soldier, state senator, governor and A&M president. The Ross Volunteers carry demilitarized rifles -- meaning they don't work, can't harm and are ceremonial only -- and sing to keep rhythm while jogging.

According to a vigil attendee quoted in The Battalion, the Corps "ran around the area screaming and yelling. Our ministers had to stop speaking. Some of the cadets glared [at us]." Furthermore, said the Rev. Danita Noland in The Examiner, "We had to stop talking quite often. It was so loud, with the jogging and the commands being called out and answered to and the drills being carried out. We could not be heard." And, she asserts, cadets pointed their useless weapons in a "menacing way."

And the chant while jogging? "Some say freedom is free, but we know Aggies who paid the price." Oh. No.

As often happens, recollection is in the eye of the beholder. While vigil attendees felt threatened by glares and menacing brandishing of weapons that don't work, an observer to the events told The Battalion, "There was no contact between the groups. The group of about 150 [cadets] did their normal drills, but they didn't do anything to intimidate the group. No one drew their weapons or made any intimidating gestures."

So what's an in-charge type to do on a college campus when contradictory information surrounds An Incident? Kowtow to the offended party, of course. It's the higher-education way. Apparently without even a hearing, the Corps was temporarily suspended and can't hold activities -- that's pending an investigation, not after an investigation determined actual wrongdoing.

But reviewing available information would indicate nothing happened to warrant a suspension anyway. The vigil attendees were outnumbered. So what? They chose to hold an event at a place regularly attended by a 100-plus group of jogging, yelling cadets. Grab a microphone or choose another place or pick another time.

And what if some cadets tossed a glare or two? Look away. A scowl is still legal, even within university-controlled, speech-zone real estate. As for the pointing of nonlethal weapons: They can't hurt you. They're not real. Where are the protesters of old? What happened to the grit, the determination, the backbone? When did activists start getting riled by meanies across the quad?

Alas, they've been squashed underneath the weight of the sensitivity doctrine: Silence whenever possible those with whom you don't agree.

It feels better.

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JWR contributor Tresa McBee is a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Times. Comment by clicking here.

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