Charlotte Mellgard is a sophomore at Vanderbilt University. She is majoring in political science with minors in both Corporate Strategy and Spanish. Charlotte contributes as both a writer and marketing director for VPR. She is particularly interested in international conflict and how it affects politics here at home. In addition to VPR, Charlotte participates in the Vanderbilt community through MentorTENNISee, VSG, and as a member of Kappa Delta sorority.
It is undeniable that many have deemed Donald Trump a racist. From his failure to immediately disavow the Ku Klux Klan to his refusal to reject endorsements from white supremacists, the controversial presidential candidate has done little to reverse people’s perception of his image. In many ways Trump has crossed the line, particularly in his frequent and offensive stereotyping of the Latino community. His strong stance on immigration, including his infamous desire to build a wall along the border between Mexico and the United States, has been accompanied by racist comments. While including that “some” Mexicans “are good people” Trump has vehemently held that Mexican immigrants are “bringing drugs” and “crime” into this country and are “rapists”.
It is hard to scroll through practically any form of social media without seeing some criticism of Trump’s racist ways. Recently this criticism has manifested itself in anger towards members of the Kappa Alpha chapter at Tulane University. This semester certain brothers were told to construct a wall of sandbags around their fraternity house, a tradition in the pledge process for the fraternity. This year, in the midst of the current election cycle, the barrier read “Make America Great Again”, thus symbolizing the wall Trump wishes to construct. In a statement released by the fraternity it was clarified that the action was intended to “mock the ideologies of” Donald Trump.
A freshman at Tulane University described the anger surrounding Kappa Alpha’s decision as “palpable”. As one Tulane student stated, “It’s one thing to see an endorsement of Trump on campus—that’s freedom of speech—but it’s another to see the wall when it’s a symbol of racism and oppression”. Students believed that the Kappa Alpha brothers were, regardless of their intentions, endorsing Trump’s more racist comments.
To a large chunk of the electorate, the wall Trump wishes to build is not a symbol of racism but rather a concrete plan to prevent illegal immigration. In reality, not all constituents who support Trump’s plan to build a wall support the racist comments Trump has made. Many back Trump’s immigration policy not because of the racist comments he has made but because of his strong condemnation of immigrants entering this nation illegally. One cannot deny that Democrats and Republicans alike have held this stance. Though Trump often expresses his opinions on immigration in inappropriate ways, many stand in solidarity with his goal “to have our borders nice and strong.” Not to prevent immigration, which has been the strength of this country throughout its history, but to prevent undocumented immigrants from entering the U.S. without regard to our laws governing immigration.
Thus can one punish members of Tulane’s Kappa Alpha chapter if their intent had been to support Trump’s strict immigration policy? Personally, I believe that members of the Kappa Alpha chapter have the right to express their political opinions as long as their rhetoric does not “incite actions that would harm others.”  After all, citizens of the United States have enjoyed the right to freedom of expression, particularly in respect of politics, for centuries. I also hold, however, that in such a heated election cycle Trump supporters must be prepared for backlash. Just as every citizen has the right to many forms of political expression, every citizen has the right to critique these opinions. Most importantly, and something that both sides of the debate should understand and accept, we must not disregard all opinions contrary to our own. Instead we must be willing to participate in discussion and tolerate the views of others with whom we may vehemently disagree. In this way, we may all become better-informed citizens.