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Nearly a year ago, the removal of a student’s Lawn sign criticizing the University motivated me to author an article defending that student’s right to freely express herself. Now, seemingly on the opposite end of the political spectrum, the discourse surrounding former vice president Mike Pence’s planned speech at the University — as embodied by this publication’s recent editorial — has inspired me once again to reaffirm that freedom of speech is absolute and must be vigorously defended. While the former vice president’s stances may be highly objectionable, using vaguely defined terms such as “violence” and “direct harm” as pretexts to censorship risks stifling legitimate debate solely out of disagreement.
In civics classrooms across the country, children learn the various roles of government — providing public services, promoting welfare, ensuring safety, etc. Curiously missing from most civics lessons however is the idea that the government — either state or federal — is responsible for the distribution of hard liquor. Yet, in Virginia and 17 other states, this happens to be very much the case. While beer and wine can be sold at any licensed business in Virginia, liquor is required to be sold at state-owned and operated Virginia Alcohol and Beverage Control stores. With more than 4,400 employees and 380 stores, the ABC system is the very definition of a state monopoly. As a result, the Commonwealth’s liquor stores inherently stifle competition and harm consumers. Considering this, the time has more than passed for the General Assembly to privatize liquor sales throughout the Commonwealth.
Last semester, a sign saying “F—k UVA”, among other things, appeared on the door of a Lawn room, igniting a wave of controversy. Now, the same Lawn resident has once again spurred debate on Grounds following her display of another sign which notably featured the Rotunda engulfed in flames and draped in a Klansmen’s hood followed by a Kwame Ture quote. While the University administration defended the student’s right to post such material in the fall, the spring semester has witnessed a disappointing departure from this earlier stance. Even before the student posted her most recent sign March 12, Housing and Residence Life unveiled a new set of regulations on Lawn room postings that will take effect the next academic year. This was followed by the University physically removing the questionable sign the same day it was posted under the pretense that it “directly promot[ed] physical violence.” Both these actions are insulting to the University community and reveal that the administration has all but a shallow commitment to upholding the First Amendment rights of students.
Fourteen Iraqi civilians were killed and 24 more wounded Sept. 16, 2007 when Blackwater security contractors opened fire on the crowded Nisour Square in Baghdad. This unprovoked massacre occurred amidst the chaotic and ethically dubious backdrop of the War on Terror. Although this incident was perpetrated by Americans, the United States remained determined to extend to these Iraqis at least some semblance of justice. The Department of Justice and FBI thoroughly investigated the massacre, and it was in a federal courtroom in 2014 that four Blackwater security guards were convicted for their involvement in these heinous acts. But thanks to the 45th President of the United States, all four war criminals have received full pardons. To say that former President Donald J. Trump showed a blatant disregard for human rights would be an understatement. The past four years have seen the United States withdraw from the Human Rights Council, sanction the International Criminal Court and turn a blind eye to the dismemberment of a journalist. This sickening dereliction of duty poses significant challenges for the new administration, yet it is incumbent upon President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to demonstrate to the global community that the United States still values human rights.
In a letter written in 1820 to William Roscoe, Thomas Jefferson outlined his vision for a university “based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind.” Yet 200 years later, this impressive vision of academic and intellectual freedom has not been fully realized at the University. Currently, the vast majority of students within the College of Arts and Sciences find themselves needing to complete course requirements across a range of subjects in order to graduate. A prescribed system such as this undoubtedly hinders individuals from pursuing their academic interests while also burdening students who lacked access to advanced coursework in high school. Consequently, the University should do away with course requirements that extend beyond what is necessary for a student’s chosen major.
The premise that no man is above the law is an ideal that dates back to 1215 when a collection of barons met on the plains of Runnymede to present King John the Magna Carta. Through highs and lows, this simple notion has been foundational to the development of English and later American common law. However, the prosecution and recent pardon of Lieutenant General Michael Flynn serves to show that under the presidency of Donald J. Trump, friends of the president may actually be above the law. A simple detailing of the facts surrounding the Flynn case serves as a useful case study into how President Trump and Attorney General William Barr have managed to corrupt the administration of justice in the United States.
Over the past several months, America has experienced a much overdue reckoning on race. Across the nation, institutions and attitudes that have perpetuated societal inequality have faced calls for reform. Given the strong activist culture that has materialized at the University and other college campuses, it is imperative that we, as a student body, critically examine the culture that exists in our backyard. One particular area that is in desperate need of increased scrutiny is the Greek rush process.