In a nation divided sharply along partisan lines, it’s hardly news that young people would fall into fighting over their political feelings and views. It’s perfectly legitimate then to think that the recent brouhaha at Stockton University already has gotten more attention than it deserves.
The provocations, complaints and resolution, however, present an informative little case study of the tedium and danger of animosity and why a mature, civilized intervention is often necessary before a trifle turns into a tragedy.
This light melodrama began July 1 when a student participating in an online meeting with classmates chose an image of President Trump for his background. That’s a cliché of provocation for generally left-leaning college students and one everyone also knows is ultimately a protected expression under the First Amendment.
Some students duly responded that they felt his background image was inappropriate and disruptive, which also hardly needed to be said.
Soon the youths were getting emotional in a group online conversation, voicing their feelings for their side and against the other side, and trying to goad foes into going too far. Some were sure the original provocateur crossed the line with a social media post about Black Lives Matter leftists and white self-hatred, which prompted at least one veiled threat against the poster — so they complained to the university.
As Stockton began reviewing the complaint, the subject of it asked for and got help from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia nonprofit protecting free speech rights on college campuses.
Surely many participants on both sides were pleased to see their views picked up by the media and drawing comments from the public — all mostly reinforcing their feelings of animosity and virtuousness.
The defenders of the student who played the Trump card tried to take it to another level by attacking the university’s consideration of the complaint. But as everyone should know by now, all American institutions must formally respond appropriately to all reports of possible animosity, hatred, threats, anything that would so much as hint at danger, lest a warning sign of a genuine risk be missed.
Stockton’s leaders took their job seriously and refused to be goaded by the squabbling partisans. In their solid, deliberate processing of the complaint according to their clearly established guidelines, they soon dismissed five of the original six charges. A week later the sixth charge of student misconduct was dropped.
No harm done, so let’s forget it.
But what would happen if a credible authority didn’t interrupt the chain of increasing provocation? Then an act of no importance or even a small accident could lead step by step — with the Capulets and the Montagues relentlessly blaming each other — to the tragic deaths of Romeo and Juliet, and with them the hope for bipartisan work toward an era of peace and prosperity.
Many Americans and their political parties have inadvertently worked themselves up to a level of partisan animosity where their feelings might override their principles that have kept themselves and others safe.
We hope they are able to see the obvious better path for everyone soon.
Meanwhile, we appreciate those such as Stockton officials who help guarantee the persistence of American principles by holding to them through emotional storms.