Fernandez-Alvarado: A response to Schill’s NYT Column

On Oct. 13, University of Oregon President Michael Schill wrote an opinion column for the New York Times on the protest that happened earlier this month. His column criticized the students who interrupted his State of the University Address, stating that silencing him was not a proper form of protest. Schill ignores the position of power he has as the university president and dismisses the different set of regulations that are given to him as a leader of this institution.  

In his column, Schill wrote, “One of the students who stormed the stage during my talk told the news media to ‘expect resistance to anyone who opposes us.’ That is awfully close to the language and practices of those the students say they vehemently oppose.” The reality is that these students are marginalized students from an institution that Schill leads. They demand respect and fair treatment after almost a century of neglect. The protester said this because they were done with the mistreatment and wanted to make it clear that they will continue to fight for the rights of all marginalized students on campus.

Schill also stated that these protestors were moving further from helping people.

“Rather than helping people who feel they have little power or voice, students who squelch speech alienate those who are most likely to be sympathetic to their message,” wrote Schill.

These students are people who feel that they have little power or voice. That is why they interrupted Schill’s speech. A concern that is often shared is that administration brushes these students off by writing an email lightly addressing their struggles then leaving them to face their problems alone. They needed to make sure that university leaders were there to listen, and they needed to do that in a way that made it harder for Schill to brush them aside.

Later in the column Schill mentioned the “success” that the UO had when confronted with the Black Student Task Force in 2015.

“I invited the students in for a discussion, and although the matters we discussed, about systemic racism and educational opportunity, were emotionally charged, we established a respectful dialogue. More important, the discussion led to change.”

The difference here was that Black students all around the country were getting their university presidents fired and Schill feared losing his job, so there was no choice but to listen and comply— which, by the way, it was never fully done. The BSTF list of demands is still unfilled – only five of 12 have been checked off.

The UO didn’t remove the name of Deady Hall even though that was the first demand on the list: “Change the names of all of the KKK related buildings on campus. Deady Hall will be the first building to be renamed.”

Finally, Schill stated that “nothing can be gained by shutting [the administration] out.” I feel the need to make something clear to Schill about this statement.

Schill, you are in power. You have a mic; you are the face in front of cameras and you even had the opportunity to publish your opinion in the most credible and accessible newspaper in the nation, with a subscription in 195 countries. I, on the other hand, must publish my counter argument in a local student newspaper. The New York Times wouldn’t care for my opinion and their readership wouldn’t either. They only care about yours.

Those protesters did not shut you down, Schill. They made you listen.

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Veronica Fernandez-Alvarado

Veronica Fernandez-Alvarado