In the past few days USF students have been abuzz with news that Donald Trump is set to hold a political rally on our campus later this week. Sure enough, this was further confirmed (Tuesday) through a forwarded email from an exclusive university mailing list that did not include USF students.
The email, which referred only to a “political rally” to be held at the Sun Dome this Friday at 7 p.m., warned recipients about traffic delays and suggested working from home on that day if possible.
A businessman turned politician, Trump needs little introduction: he is a high profile candidate in the presidential race. Despite his recent drop in poll ratings, and the fact that the Republican Party itself appears uncertain and divided about him, Trump remains the leading GOP candidate and has a substantial popular following in the U.S.
His political rallies commonly seem more like pep rallies, but this is no high school drama. Trump has already made his intentions for office crystal-clear with his racist and dehumanizing rhetoric about immigrants, Syrian refugees and women.
His slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’ appeals to an economically depressed Middle America by giving it a distracting fantasy for its problems, as well as racial scapegoats to blame them on.
More than a few videos clips and news releases from past Trump rallies have featured mob-like behavior directed towards peaceful counter-protesters.
As graduate students and faculty at USF, we are unimpressed with the administration’s decision to allow such a candidate to hold a rally on our campus. The Sun Dome itself is owned and operated by a private party, which is a common practice among public universities to fund their athletic programs.
But the Sun Dome is still an integral part of our campus identity and its usage must be accountable to students. A reader of the USF website will find that the main campus hosts students from more than 150 countries around the world, and 7 percent of the student population is international.
According to USF System Facts, 10.9 percent of our Tampa campus students are African American, 19.9 percent are Hispanic and 7 percent are Asian, to name just a few backgrounds.
What sort of message do we send when we enable a publicity stunt of a presidential candidate who openly and unapologetically demonizes groups who comprise such a large portion of our student body?
The timing of Trump’s rally here is more than ironic. Less than two weeks ago, we received a campus-wide email from Thomas Miller, vice president for student activities, on free speech at USF. In it, Miller highlighted that it is “not hard for students to see examples of hostility and close mindedness in the current political arena.”
He cautioned that while free speech is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution from a legal standpoint, “speech that denounces certain classes of people does not contribute to healthy debate, rather it degrades it by having the effect of bullying groups based upon some shared characteristics.”
We are not sure what Trump is planning to say at his rally, but we can be fairly certain that it is hardly likely to foster “healthy debate.” Already, a protest of the upcoming event is being organized on social media with more than 200 planned attendees and over 1,000 invited.
If Trump is committed to carrying out his rally, there are plenty of more-appropriate locations in Tampa to do so, such as hotels or convention centers whose express responsibility is to clients who wish to rent out space.
USF is not such a place.
The Sun Dome may be an easy gathering area, but it is still a part of our campus community. Universities in the U.S. have historically been an essential cultural space for thinking, creativity, and yes, dissent — but through open and respectful dialogue.
USF has compromised the integrity of this space and a student’s right to feel safe on campus, in exchange for private profit and expediency. We hope for more accountability in the future.
(in alphabetical order)
Anna Abella, PhD student in Applied Anthropology; Faezeh Bahraini, PhD student, Department of Sociology; Dr. Robert Benford, Department of Sociology; Patrick Casey, PhD student, Department of Sociology; Julie Dell-Jones, Doctoral candidate, Department of Education; Doug Engelman, PhD student, Department of Sociology; Kelsee Hentschel, M.A. Ph.D. Student, Applied Anthropology; Dr. Ginger A. Johnson, USF Alumni; Olivia Johnson, Masters student, Department of Sociology; Mika Kadono, PhD student, Department of Anthropology/College of Public Health; Hadi Khoshneviss, PhD student, Department of Sociology; Laura Leisinger, MA student, Department of Anthropology; Ryan Logan, Doctoral student, Department of Anthropology; Pangri Mehta, PhD student, Department of Sociology; Brianna O'Steen, Graduate student, Department of Anthropology/College of Public Health; Sarita Panchang, PhD student, College of Public Health/Department of Anthropology; Jesus Ramirez, PhD student, Department of Philosophy; Manuel Ramirez, MA student, Department of Sociology; Katie Scussel, Masters of Public Health Student, Department of Community and Family Health; Rodrigo Serrão, PhD student, Department of Sociology; Keegan Shepherd, PhD candidate, Department of History; Dr. Angela Stuesse, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology; Rachel Tyree, MA student, Department of Anthropology; Wenonah Venter, MA student, Department of Sociology; Ann Vitous, MA/MPH student, Department of Anthropology/College of Public Health; Aria Walsh-Felz, MA/MPH student, Department of Anthropology/College of Public Health; Christine Wieseler PhD student, Department of Philosophy ; Alexis Winter, Department of Anthropology, USF