By Blake Neff
In an interview released Monday by NPR, President Barack Obama praised recent student protests that have rocked campuses in recent months as a “good thing,” but urged them not to “shut people up” in the process.
Obama gave a wide-ranging interview on topics from ISIS to Donald Trump, and one of the topics NPR interviewer Steve Inskeep asked him to touch upon was protests on college campuses, specifically the efforts to change Harvard Law School’s seal and to rename Yale University’s Calhoun College.
Obama decided not to comment on those two specific protest efforts, but instead decided to speak about campus protests more generally. He said he was broadly supportive of protests, but worried they sometimes become intolerant … like conservatives.
“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,” Obama said. “I don’t want to discourage kids from doing that. [But] as I’ve said before, I do think that there have been times on college campuses where I get concerned that the unwillingness to hear other points of view can be as unhealthy on the left as on the right.”
“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,” Obama continued. “Well, feel free to disagree with somebody, but don’t try to just shut them up.”
Obama’s comments come after several months of aggressive campus protests, many of them connected to the Black Lives Matter movement and other racial issues. At the University of Missouri, campus protesters drove the president out of office, and then received negative attention when a supportive professor tried to block media from covering their activism. At Yale University, faculty members Erika and Nicholas Christakis have both stopped teaching after they were targeted by protesters for an email Erika sent urging people not to get upset about Halloween costumes.
Obama cited affirmative action as a particular issue where it was important not to simply attack the other side.
“If somebody doesn’t believe in affirmative action, they may disagree — you may disagree with them,” he said. “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.”
Overall, though, Obama described campus activism as a “good thing,” and said he simply feared “a situation in which particular points of view that are presented respectfully and reasonably are shut down.”
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