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MSU students protest for support of transgender students following anti-trans rights demonstration

April 15, 2024
Student protesters partake in an energetic chant during a transgender rights protest at the Hannah Administration Building on April 15, 2024.
Student protesters partake in an energetic chant during a transgender rights protest at the Hannah Administration Building on April 15, 2024.

Students peacefully protested outside the Hannah Administration Building today to advocate for MSU to adhere to diversity, equity and inclusion standards in support of transgender and gender non-conforming students. The protest was a response to a demonstration held in Brody Hall on April 4 that students deemed transphobic.

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Today's protest was organized by comparative cultures and politics sophomore Lyra Opalikhin and was not associated with any particular student group. Rather, the gathering consisted of students seeking to share their experiences with trans visibility at MSU, as well as demand change from administration.

Opalikhin said that following the incident on April 4, she felt that an inaccurate picture was painted of the situation and that students were alarmed by it. So she sought to organize a protest that would provide an inclusive environment. Additionally, she wanted to ensure that MSU administration "stands by the DEI standards that they say they stand by."

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According to the MSU freedom of speech webpage, though hate speech has no legal definition, "the term often refers to speech that insults or demeans a person or group of people on the basis of particular attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender." Furthermore, the university states that while it condemns hate speech, "there is no hate speech exception in the constitution."

The previous demonstration at Brody Hall included signs reading "Men can't be women," "Women can't be men" and "Do no harm," a reference to a medical and political advocacy group that opposes gender-affirming care and DEI efforts. 

Opalikhin said that according to MSU's own policy, the demonstration at Brody Hall is considered hate speech.

However, according to Student Life and Engagement spokesperson Kat Cooper, the only requirement to set up a table like the one on April 4 is that the students doing it have to be a registered student organization. Other than that, she said SLE does not make decisions about what is considered free speech and that MSU "cannot judge based on the content of what (RSOs) want to share."

If the university were to recognize statements like the ones displayed at the April 4 demonstration as hate speech, Opalikhin said that proper care could be taken to prevent them from taking place or warn students who may not feel safe, as she acknowledged that the lines between hate speech and free speech can be shaky.

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At the protest, Opalikhin delivered a speech calling on the administration to take more action regarding hate speech on campus and questioned why students are the first to take action in the face of hate speech. She said the administration must commit to its DEI standards and fight against "insulting and dehumanizing" rhetoric. 

"Hate has built a home in the shortcoming of this administration," she said.

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Other students, including packaging sophomore Joe Lark, also spoke about their experiences.

Lark said that within weeks of being on MSU's campus, she noticed that people were targeting her and her community, and the university did nothing to stop it.

"It's horrifying to know that I have to plan my day-to-day schedule based on if there are organizations on campus threatening my existence," she said.

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Additionally, Lark believes that pop-ups like the one in Brody Hall do not advocate for civil conversation and instead encourage people to "get riled up and engage with them."

Young Americans for Freedom, the group that set up the table on April 4, could not be reached at the time of publication.

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