Let's imagine that you leave your residence hall one morning, the warm glow of the late summer sun on your cheeks. As you make your way to class, the first thing you see is a pack of fellow students doing the same. But, wait...what do they have in their hands? Clamps? Plugs? Are they seriously lugging around adult toys? Those can't possibly be class-related -- unless there's some brand-new Wellness Plus 2 course you haven't heard about. What do you do?

Many students at the University of Texas at Austin were asking that question just last week. If you’ve kept up with the news, you may have heard about the recent clever, albeit bawdy, protest at that school. In order to demonstrate their frustration with a Texas state law permitting concealed carry of firearms on college campuses, some students began strolling around grounds toting a collection of sex toys. They did this to make the point that if gun-owning students are allowed to walk around with possessions that so obviously have no place in a learning environment, then why can’t fans of BDSM?

In my opinion, the demonstration was a pretty smart one, and it got me thinking about protests and the role they play on college campuses across the country. As I’m sure we all know, institutions of higher learning have long served as hubs of social change and political action, and oftentimes a public expression of discontent is a fine way of having your voice be heard. If it goes smoothly, a protest can highlight a certain issue and give students a chance to get their voices out. I know there are some people out there, however, who would contend that demonstrations such as the one at UT Austin are childish and unnecessary, that they really do little besides distract others from going about their business.

I remember some people saying similar things here at UR around the time I participated in a demonstration of solidarity with students at the University of Missouri last year who had experienced racial prejudice. Although the signs we held up in the forum were much less risque than what the students in Austin wielded on Wednesday, I’d say we had similar motives: to demonstrate how we felt about a certain issue and to spur people to think critically and reconsider their own opinions about that issue. It may not have had the intended effect on everyone who saw it -- like I said, some students expressed their opinions on its supposed frivolity -- but was it still worthwhile? I think so.

So, the next time there’s a protest on or near campus (which I’d wager could be fairly soon, given the times), I’m calling for all of us to honestly consider the issues that are being brought up. And even if the protesters are clearly espousing a viewpoint contrary to our own, I think it’d be wise to try and look at the problem from their point of view.

Contact opinion writer Hunter Moyler at hunter.moyler@richmond.edu.

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