The student news site of Potomac Falls High School

The Roar

The student news site of Potomac Falls High School

The Roar

The student news site of Potomac Falls High School

The Roar

Opinion: Freedom of Speech for Everyone! Except you—


The war on students and America’s steady decline into Fascism 

Hundreds of officers flood college campuses in riot gear, snipers stationed in Ohio University, bloody pavements left behind following brutal arrests in Emory, student journalists and medics tackled to the ground by Austin Police. America is at war, not just externally. 

In early April, the University of Southern California (USC) informed their valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, that her graduation speech was canceled. Tabassum, with a minor in Genocide Studies, says that the cancelation of her speech was an attempt to silence pro-Palestinian voices. According to the New York Times, “The university said the decision was based on a barrage of communications threatening to disrupt the graduation ceremony.” Students called out the hypocrisy of USC offering genocide studies as theory, but suppressing their own teachings in praxis. The graduation ceremony for 64,000 students has since been canceled until further notice due to pressure from student activists. [USC]


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The silencing of student support for Palestine under the pretext of “anti-semetic rhetoric” isn’t novel, and has been used countless times to squash the protests calling for an end to the genocide of Gazans. Students across the nation have been urging their respective schools to divest from the Israeli apartheid and arms manufacturers that aid the violence in occupied Palestine. These students have been met with opposition and vitriol from their administrations, with threats of expulsion, doxing, and police intervention [CNN]. 


“They’ll say we’re disturbing the peace, but there is no peace. What really bothers them is that we are disturbing the war” – Howard Zinn 1971


The infringements on students’ rights to free speech, endangerment of student safety, and hypocritical messaging opens up the conversation: are universities acting in their students’ best interests— or the interests of their benefactors? 


This week, students at Columbia set up divestment camps on their campus grounds and continued their months-long peaceful protests but were met with the full force of the NYPD in riot gear working in collaboration with Columbia’s administration. Columbia quickly came under fire for endangering their own students. This was months after Columbia’s administration suspended the Jewish Voice for Peace and Palestinian Youth Movement clubs for their protests. 


Columbia’s official stance on the matter was evident and their suppression of free speech on campus prompted users on X (formerly Twitter) to bring up Columbia’s problematic history during the Vietnam War, when it had 700 student protesters arrested for their encampments. Critics called out the hypocrisy of Columbia’s statement on their website.


Columbia is a far different place today than it was in the spring of 1968 when protesters took over University buildings amid discontent about the Vietnam War, racism and the University’s proposed expansion into Morningside Park. After a weeklong standoff, New York City Police stormed the campus and arrested more than 700 people. The fallout dogged Columbia for years. It took decades for the University to recover from those turbulent times.” [Columbia News]


Similar to UNC-Chapel Hill’s divestment protests against apartheid South Africa in the mid 1980s, the divestment camps proved to be effective as one of Columbia’s biggest benefactors, Billionaire Robert Kraft, pulled funding from the institution, causing financial strain on the university. The effectiveness of the protests and frustrations of the people caused Columbia’s efforts to backfire, causing the divestment camp movement to spread across US universities. Students at MIT, Emerson, University of Michigan, UT Austin, Brown and Princeton along with 25+ others, set up solidarity camps for Gaza, pressuring immediate divestment. [Al-Jazeera News


Students reinforced that the protests are not meant to distract from the events unfolding in Gaza, and it is essential that we keep up with the Genocide our tax dollars fund. This past week, multiple mass graves were uncovered in Gaza near hospitals recently sieged by the IDF, with up to 400 civilian bodies. The horrific scenes were described to include bodies of healthcare workers in scrubs, children with zip tied limbs and hospital patients with IVs still connected. 


A shocking result of the protests was the excessive and brutal use of force employed by local leaders and administration against their own students. Across the US, the National Guard, local and state police, and counter-terrorism along with other agencies were dispatched to disperse the crowds. Shocking videos on X (formerly Twitter) reveal cases of police brutality and mass arrests, leaving students and faculty injured. The use of unmarked vans for illegal arrests, tear gas and batons to disperse crowds including minors and elderly people, and attacks on camera-crew documenting the incidents were gross violations of how law enforcement is meant to operate. 


However, breaking student spirit proved to be a more tedious task. “To get to our students, you have to get through us” in scenes of resistance, faculty members created chains around their students to protect them. Swarms of people surrounded police vehicles carrying illegally arrested students until they were set free in UT Austin and students united to barricade doorways to keep police out of Cal-Tech.  


“We have lost confidence in those who call themselves leaders, who abandoned their community and their campus after inviting the police state to take over this campus,” said Pavithra Vasudevan, an assistant professor at UT. 


Students drew parallels between history and this week, expressing how the last time this excessive amount of force was used against students was the Kent State Massacre and Jackson State Massacres, where the National Guard shot and killed 6 anti-war peaceful student protestors who were against US involvement in the Vietnam War. Historically, student anti-war and divestment protests on this scale have always been on the right side of history and have been crucial for turning the tide of public opinion. 


Excessive policing of student protests isn’t just prevalent in higher education, but instead trickles down, even to Loudoun County. As seen by the School Board’s recent proposal to limit student protests within the school building and requiring extensive permission from administration [LCPS] with board member Karen LaBell saying protests are “pulling teachers off task” and that “Half the time, they don’t know why they’re walking out,” she said. “Kids just follow along.” LaBell referenced the recent student walkouts at Potomac Falls and Park View High School calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, and protests in support for LGBTQ students causing ‘safety risks’ as reasons for pushing the restrictive proposal. [Loudoun Times-Mirror] 


Fascism in the United States is a real problem, and a country which censors its students, attacks its marginalized communities, limits freedom of speech, and prioritizes proxy wars in foreign nations over the safety of its own citizens is in need of serious reform.