Upon reading the Family Foundation's blog post about their president, Victoria Cobb, receiving the Jepson School of Leadership Studies' 10th Reunion Recognition Award and the resulting student protest, my first instinct was to laugh. It amused me that the Family Foundation — such a supposedly influential, powerful organization — would be so threatened by a group of undergraduate protesters that they chose to insult us rather than to focus on their esteemed leader in their article. That they were unable to correctly spell the word "hypocrisy" was merely icing on the cake.
But after a few moments of reflection, my amusement turned to anger. If Victoria Cobb and her organization were just a few isolated individuals, their foolishness would indeed be humorous. But they have money and followers, which makes them dangerous. And my institution, in giving an award to Victoria Cobb, just endorsed them.
In reference to the student protesters, the blog says, "No classes, no tests, no papers due — and no clue." Yeah, right. As any Richmond student will be able to attest, this statement is quite patently ridiculous. Richmond is a very academically challenging institution where there are no easy majors. I personally am studying biochemistry; other students who attended the protest are pursuing majors in everything from computer science to environmental studies to international relations. It is surprising to me that Victoria Cobb apparently thinks so poorly of the academic standards at her own alma mater.
If anything, the fact that so many of us — more than 70 students, in fact, rather than 40 as the blog claims — were able to make time in our busy schedules during the weeks leading up to exams in order to attend the protest shows how important this issue really is. Not to mention, the time of the protest — from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on a Friday evening — is hardly prime study time for most students anyway. Even the most dedicated students are not normally found in the library on a Friday evening.
The blog post also makes the same mistake that we have seen presented time and time again by those opposing our protest: the issue of free speech. This has been addressed before by many of my fellow students, and I do not want to sound like a broken record, but the message bears repeating.
We are NOT against Victoria Cobb's rights to run an organization, hold her own opinions and share those opinions with others. Though I do not agree with her message because I believe it is discriminatory and hateful, I recognize her right to share it with others, even on the Richmond campus. What I DO oppose is the Jepson School's decision to give Cobb a leadership award for her work — work which is diametrically opposed to the school's goals of inclusivity and social justice.
Again, let me repeat: The right to free speech is not the same as the right to receive an award.
And speaking of rights, what of the right to hold a peaceful, respectful protest? Contrary to the blog, no one at the protest "hurled insults," unless slogans such as "2, 4, 6, 8, We do not discriminate!", "We are UR," and "This is what democracy looks like; this is what democracy sounds like!" are now insults. Our goal was to show Victoria Cobb and the Jepson School that Richmond students are a united, cohesive group that support each other and promote tolerance over exclusion. If anyone was behaving immaturely, it was Cobb: she exited through a back door of Jepson, rather than face the peaceful protesters waiting to see her.
The Family Foundation's blog says that our protest exhibited "hypocricy" [sic] and was "not exactly what higher education is about." I object to this statement. I believe that higher education is about learning how to think for oneself, how to take appropriate action when the situation requires and how to become an active adult member of a democratic society.
I am currently a freshman, and in high school I was not at all involved in LGBTQ rights or any other type of social activism. It is since coming to Richmond that I have become aware of the inequality faced by the queer community, and have as a result taken part in protests, listened to informational speakers and attended educational conferences. This, to me, is at the heart of higher education: becoming more informed about the world around me, and choosing to do something to bring about the changes I want to see.
The Family Foundation says of us, "Oh, to be young and have no responsibility and no clue." I may be young, but I am actively working towards being a responsible member of society, and am going out of my way to learn. That is more than can be said of them, judging by the willful ignorance displayed in their blog.
To the Richmond community — students, professors, gay, straight, conservative, liberal, and everyone else — I ask only one thing. Look at the Family Foundation's Web site, and read its blog. Look at the insulting response to our peaceful protest, the way it demeans Richmond students, the way it scorns the education offered here at Richmond. These are the people whom we have awarded. Take a long, hard look.