In the Line of Fire at Clemson
It was not your standard campus raffle.
A conservative student newspaper at Clemson University, The Tiger Town Observer, came under attack last week for a drawing to give away an assault-style AK-47 rifle (called a WASR-10) and a .22-magnum Marlin rifle.
“What better way to celebrate the Second Amendment than to give away a gun,” said Andrew Davis, the editor. “We wanted to start a campus-wide dialogue.”
It appears that Davis got his wish.
When The Observer set up a table near a busy campus walkway to begin ticket sales, a group of Clemson undergraduates protesting the drawing planted themselves nearby and handed out literature on gun safety. They were students of John Longo, an English department lecturer who presented his accelerated composition class with an assignment: Take a campus issue and develop a rhetorical campaign.
Longo had earlier brought to his class an article about the gun drawing as an example of a campus issue, said Hannah Davis, a student (who is not related to Andrew Davis). The students independently chose to take up the drawing as their project, Longo said.
Students weren’t forced to participate in the protest, Longo said. Hannah Davis said that when Longo asked the class if anyone objected to the campaign against the drawing, not one student raised his or her hand.
Andrew Davis is accusing Longo and other members of the English department of “turning their classrooms into a political weapon of protest.”
“We knew there were going to be protests,” he said. “We knew some people were going to get tickets for free. We didn’t expect professors jumping in on it.”
Andrew Davis said there were a series of heated exchanges that lasted throughout the first two days of the drawing. One involved him and a graduate student. Another involved another graduate student, Clint Boswell, who teaches two sections of accelerated composition.
Boswell said the debate featured “two stubborn people with very strong opinions.” He said he was upset because he believed the gun drawing “misrepresented Clemson in a lot of ways.” He pointed out that of his 50 English students, only 6 agreed with the idea of holding a gun drawing.
“There’s a lot of negative connotation to the weapon -- there’s a history of genocide behind the AK-47,” Boswell said.
South Carolina state law prohibits raffles, so the newspaper couldn’t charge for entries -- it suggested a $5 donation. Clemson released a statement notifying those on campus that The Observer’s event wasn’t, in fact, a raffle. The university noted that the drawing didn’t violate state statute unless weapons were brought onto university property.
The winners received gift certificates notifying them they could pick up the guns off campus.
Davis said protesters flooded the drawing by entering their name more than once, often times without paying for tickets. Less than two days after the drawing began, the newspaper announced it was halting sales.
He said he got the idea for the drawing from a conservative paper at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Longo said it was never his intention to shut down the drawing or to influence his students’ views. “I’ve done almost everything to stay out of it,” Longo said. He said Andrew Davis’s assertion that he put pressure on his class to participate or was involved in the protest is absurd. “If he can find me one student that said that I tried to influence the way the project went, that’s great. Because I didn’t,” Longo said.
Boswell said he discussed rhetorical issues in his class but never asked any students to get involved in a protest. He said he took offense when Andrew Davis and others at the drawing table “antagonized those who signed up for free.”
“The fact that people are signing up the way they want to, and voting their opinion, is representative of the democratic process,” Boswell said.
Mark Charney, chair of the English department, said he has been assured by those in his department that there was no pressure put on students. “It would be an inappropriate to push a political agenda,” he said. “If it’s part of a class that that deals with rhetoric, that’s fine.”
Longo said the class project has thus far been a success. “This has provided opportunities to look at rhetoric with real-world situations. It’s hard to simulate that in class,” he said.