Obama on Protests and Hearing the Other Side

December 22, 2015

In an interview with National Public Radio, President Obama reiterated his support for students who this fall held numerous protests over racial conditions on campuses, and he reprised criticism of students who seek to keep certain speakers off campus.

He was asked to weigh in on demands by some at Harvard Law School (one of his alma maters) to change the school seal, which comes from the seal of a family that was involved in the slave trade, and demands at Yale University that it change the name of a residential college honoring John C. Calhoun, notorious for his defense of slavery. Obama declined to talk about those debates specifically. But he expressed support for protests by college students. "I think it's a healthy thing for young people to be engaged and to question authority and to ask why this instead of that, to ask tough questions about social justice. So I don't want to discourage kids from doing that," he said.

But Obama added that those protesting -- and all college students -- need to hear a range of views. "There have been times where you start seeing on college campuses students protesting somebody like the director of the IMF or Condi Rice speaking on a campus because they don't like what they stand for. Well, feel free to disagree with somebody, but don't try to just shut them up," he said. "If somebody doesn't believe in affirmative action, they may disagree -- you may disagree with them. I disagree with them, but have an argument with them. It is possible for somebody not to be racist and want a just society but believe that that is something that is inconsistent with the Constitution. And you should engage. So my concern is not whether there is campus activism. I think that's a good thing. But let kids ask questions and let universities respond. What I don't want is a situation in which particular points of view that are presented respectfully and reasonably are shut down, and we have seen that sometimes happen."

The transcript of the interview may be found here.

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