Last week, student violence gripped two of the U.S.'s most reputed schools – Penn State and UC-Berkeley. These schools are on the opposite coasts and, keeping in line with their location, the nature of violence was also contrasting. While I would like to laud the Berkley students for their courage, I want to admonish the Penn State students for their misconduct. It might sound hypocritical, but let me tell you why it is not.
The students at Penn State were outraged by the dismissal of their legendary football coach of almost half a century, Joe Paterno. His crime was overlooking allegations of sexual abuse by his long-time assistant Jerry Sandusky. Even the president of the university was ousted amid the scandal, but no one seemed to be bothered by the president losing his job. But then, college football is a religion in America, and this is what happens when you insult its Pope. It is akin to blasphemy.
This column is not about how wrong or right it was to sack the coach and if it was really his responsibility to avoid the unfortunate incidents, but how right is it for the students to go berserk and engage in arson. I completely agree with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett on his view that, “I believe in your right of assembly and your right to express your opinions, I do not believe, nor does anyone believe, in your right to violence.”
There are umpteen more effective ways to protest. Unfortunately, the Penn State students chose the worst one. Besides, these students know what a democracy is and they surely have student bodies who represent their interests to the top administration.
The knee-jerk response of Penn State students was as if a bunch of grown up kids were throwing a tantrum after something they held dear was snatched away. No offense to the football fans, but there are more serious issues than to just see your favorite 11 beat the other 11. The protesting students should have understood that there were victims of Sandusky's crimes, and many of them were none other than their fellow students. Clearly, the students failed to see sense – and brought shame to their institution.
For them, a good season of football seemed to matter more than the former assistant coach's deplorable actions. Nittany Lion pride overshadowed basic humanism. Although a small group of students peacefully rallied in favor of the victims, they went largely unnoticed and unheard.
You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist. Surprisingly, the police response to this rowdiness was mild. No batons or rubber bullets were used to disperse the crowds. The use of just some pepper spray was deemed fit.
On the other hand, at Berkeley, a group of students who thought that injustice was meted out to the Occupy Oakland protesters protested peacefully. The police moved in and ordered the protesters to clear off, failing which the protesters were ruthlessly thrashed with batons. But the students were brave enough and did not turn their back on fellow protesters. They still held each others'hands in the human chain.
It is the kind of courage that the pioneer of non-violent agitation M.K. Gandhi once praised when he said, “I cannot teach you violence, as I do not myself believe in it. I can only teach you not to bow your heads before any one even at the cost of your life.”
The ensemble of students that converged on Sproul Hall, which symbolically represents the site of the Mario Savio-led free speech battles of the 1960s, had no idea that they would meet the same fate as their Occupy Oakland counterparts. It represents a generation of young blood that refuses to accept the current world order that nourishes disparity over equality.
These young scholars also refute cartoonist Frank Miller's point that, “'Occupy' is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves and rapists. An unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness.”
It is also ridiculous to see that using police force against a peaceful demonstration was deemed fit but using police force against a mob comprising of a few thousand people attempting arson was not deemed necessary. But this is what distinguishes an assembly of the brave from a mob.
“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer,” Ralph Waldo Emerson once said. This holds good for the students of Berkeley – they were brave enough to hold onto their stand a little longer than an ordinary individual. There is no reason they should not be hailed as heroes at home.