Brenda Smith-Lezama, vice president of the Missouri Students Association, said on MSNBC on November 10 that she opposes the exercise of free speech if it creates a "hostile" and "unsafe" learning environment on her University of Missouri campus. Instead, says Smith-Lezama, there should be a safe space for "healing" rather than "experiencing a lot of hate." Smith-Lezama is a dual national of the United States and Mexico, and considers herself bicultural.
A student leader on the University of Missouri campus at Columbia MO, Smith-Lezama is a part-time contributor to Seventeen magazine. According to the bio on the Seventeen website, she “spends a lot of her free time in Mexico City. As a dual citizen of Mexico and the United States, she has grown up appreciating both countries. It is her love for both cultures that had fueled her passion for multicultural issues.”
When MSNBC host Thomas Roberts asked Smith-Lezama "One professor complained universities are becoming places of prohibition…What's your feeling? Do you believe that's a place we are heading for American campuses now? "
"I personally am tired of hearing that first amendment rights protect students when they are creating a hostile and unsafe learning environment for myself and for other students here," said Smith-Lezama. She added, “I think that it's important for us to create that distinction and create a space where we can all learn from one another and start to create a place of healing rather than a place where we are experiencing a lot of hate like we have in the past."
Referring an incident on the UM campus on November 9 where two journalists were accosted while reporting on the extensive protests against the university administration, the former beauty pageant contestant Smith-Lezama said the treatment meted out to the journalists should be a "teachable moment" for anyone who approaches protestors with "hostility." The University of Missouri has one of the premier journalism departments in the nation.
Above is a video of the Nov. 9 incident of activists accosting two journalists
Of the incident, which has stirred much debate in journalistic and free speech circles, Lezama-Smith said "I think it's a teachable moment for all of us." She added about the incident, "I also think it's important to remember that as student journalists, you cannot approach these type of situations with hostility and with anger because it only escalates the situation."
Lezama-Smith is a broadcast journalism major who volunteers at the campus Latino center.
Student Body president Payton Head, with whom Smith-Lezama ran for office, became reknowned on campus with a Facebook post that sparked weeks of turmoil. Head claimed in a widely reported Facebook post that unknown men driving by him on September 11 in a pickup called him out and used a racist epithet. Head is a former assistant to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel: a Democrat. He was also a chair on the university social justice committee. On November 4, he attended a conference in Chicago where he gave a presentation on campus racism. In his Facebook post, Head wrote:
"I just want to say how extremely hurt and disappointed I am. Last night as I walking through campus, some guys riding on the back of a pickup truck decided that it would be okay to continuously scream N****R at me. I really just want to know why my simple existence is such a threat to society."
"You’ve never had to experience people throwing drinks on you," wrote Head, "and yelling F****T at you from the patio at Big 12 as you walk past on the street holding hands with your partner. You might never had to think twice about what you’re wearing walking around campus at night so that someone won’t think it’s okay to take ownership of your body because your outfit was “asking for it.”
In an interview with PBS last week, Smith-Lezama linked the campus protests with the events of 2014 in Ferguson MO that grew out of the shooting death of Michael Brown - an 18-year-old black man - by a white cop.
Commenting on the protests that led to the resignations of the University of Missouri president, Jonathan Chait wrote at New York Magazine:
"The upsurge of political correctness is not just greasy-kid stuff, and it’s not just a bunch of weird, unfortunate events that somehow keep happening over and over. It’s the expression of a political culture with consistent norms, and philosophical premises that happen to be incompatible with liberalism. The reason every Marxist government in the history of the world turned massively repressive is not because they all had the misfortune of being hijacked by murderous thugs. It’s that the ideology itself prioritizes class justice over individual rights and makes no allowance for legitimate disagreement. (For those inclined to defend p.c. on the grounds that racism and sexism are important, bear in mind that the forms of repression Marxist government set out to eradicate were hardly imaginary.)"
Below is video of the MSNBC interview with Smith-Lezama: