The VCU compass is the campus hotspot for those who have a point to prove. From pastors, to Planned Parenthood volunteers, to Black Lives Matter members — there always seems to be someone protesting against or advocating for something.
The past week has been no exception. If you’ve been anywhere near the library lately, you’ve seen the drama ensue firsthand. Perhaps you’ve been offended by a protester’s hateful words or simply rolled your eyes as opposing students yelled at each other. Whatever your relation is to the conflict, you’re most likely better off ignoring it. The majority of compass protestors just want to provoke you.
Please don’t give them that satisfaction.
The wave of demonstrations and debates is spearheaded by the now notorious “Sign Guy,” who has made it his duty to patrol the compass each day, armed with a handwritten sign and some choice words for anyone who decides to argue with him. He is evidently very committed to sharing his viewpoints with VCU’s campus.
On Oct. 4, the compass was occupied by a flock of students and police officers, centered around “Sign Guy,” who was reportedly screaming racist remarks. A few students took the liberty of leading a counter-protest, which mostly involved screaming over the man as the crowd cheered them on.
While it’s always satisfying to see VCU students bond together for the sake of combatting oppression, the individual at the center of the compass was clearly uninterested in hearing anyone else’s point of view. Boasting a sign that renamed VCU to “Very Cucked University,” the man was blatantly indifferent to the crowd gathered around him. Since he’s been back at the compass with a freshly discriminatory sign nearly every day since, the massive response from students clearly did nothing to deter him.
A 2016 poll conducted by Gallup indicated 69 percent of the college students surveyed believed colleges should be able to restrict “using slurs and other language on campus that is intentionally offensive to certain groups.” There were no further questions asked regarding what these restrictions would entail, so it is unclear where exactly college students draw the line on offensive speech.
On Oct. 9, “Sign Guy” wrote anxiety was simply due to paranoia. While this assertion may obviously have been offensive to individuals with genuine, medically diagnosed anxiety, other students may have read it as a synonym for “stress” and hardly batted an eye.
As long as offensive material is a grey area, it will be impossible to place black and white regulations on free speech. Until those boundaries are laid down, college students are virtually forced to deal with whoever decides to pop up on their campus and spew hatred that day.
Although going head-to-head with someone who exudes hatred may feel good at the time, it ultimately isn’t worth wasting your breath. Chances are the only thought running through that individual’s mind is a mental pat on the back for successfully provoking you.
Obviously, there are instances in which speaking with a protestor may be worthwhile. If the person is calm and shows a genuine interest in having a thoughtful argument, then you both may actually benefit from discussing your respective ideas.
This isn’t to say that those who have previously argued with “Sign Guy” or anyone like him are in the wrong. If you feel obligated to stand up for your beliefs, you have the freedom of speech with which to do so — just don’t be too hopeful for any sort of meaningful conversation.
The reality is that no one toting a sign with an aggressive one-liner actually wants to educate themselves. Whether right or wrong, that person is already dead-set in their opinion. Spouting alt-right viewpoints at a notoriously liberal college is simply begging for a reaction. Don’t be the one to provide it.