On Saturday, Oct. 31, several Lawrence University students marched in downtown Appleton in protest of hate speech people of color in the Appleton community experience on a regular basis. They held signs addressing the discrimination with powerful messages such as, “We don’t feel safe.”
While many members of the community supported the protest, there were also outspoken individuals who found fault with it. On the street, students were met with fear and apprehension. Passersby were rarely disruptive, but did pass with closed body language and glancing looks.
Shoppers and business owners were concerned for the children and the potential loss of income. While the protesters’ signs were eye catching, their behavior was not disruptive in the least, only if one interpreted it as such.
More vehement reactions came to light through comments on the Post Crescent article about the protest that appeared on Saturday. Many Appleton citizens, at least those who expressed such opinions in the comments, do not recognize students’ experiences with discrimination as hate speech.
The article was met with advice to shrug off any hurtful words or suggestions that students are being overly sensitive, a product of Lawrence’s left-wing, victimizing environment. Even the number of students was criticized; a small group of students means the concern is not of much importance. These comments negate any student experience and reveal the true ignorance held by many in the community.
Community members speaking out against the protest, either in person or online, were not attempting to be racist or prejudiced intentionally, but there is clearly a profound misunderstanding about the treatment of people of color and people who identify as members of other minority groups in this city.
The ignorance displayed by these comments and actions exemplifies why protests like these are necessary, and why Lawrence’s excellent drive towards social justice should be wielded to include the Appleton community, a community too frequently considered something separate from Lawrence.
Saturday’s protest clearly evoked a strong reaction, if a mixed one, from the Appleton community, and is a great first step towards increased investment in Lawrence’s home in the city of Appleton. It was the beginning of a conversation that needs to be had.