The protests led by university students of color across the U.S. during the fall semester did not go unnoticed by President Barack Obama. In a wide-ranging interview with National Public Radio that aired Monday, Obama said he supported the students’ push to elevate conversations about diversity, racism and social justice.
But the president also said he was worried that some students appeared unwilling to engage their administrators or listen to their opponents. "As I've said before, I do think that there have been times on college campuses where I get concerned that the unwillingness to hear other points of view can be as unhealthy on the left as on the right," Obama said in the NPR interview. (The student protest topic begins at 28:55 in the video below.)
"Well, feel free to disagree with somebody, but don't try to just shut them up," Obama added. The president didn’t get into the specifics of any one college or protest, according to NPR.
Over the last several months, marches, “teach-ins” and rallies have been held at the University of Missouri, Yale University and Ithaca College, among many other schools, over issues that include campus policies on offensive Halloween costumes, racial tensions between students, the lack of racial diversity among faculty, and school officials’ inaction when bigoted vandalism and racial slurs are reported by students of color. The protests came after more than a year of unrest over police killings and brutality, led by Black Lives Matter, the national social justice movement.
"I think it's a healthy thing for young people to be engaged and to question authority and to ask why this instead of that, to ask tough questions about social justice," Obama told NPR host Steve Inskeep. "So I don't want to discourage kids from doing that."
The president added: "My concern is not whether there is campus activism. I think that's a good thing. But let kids ask questions and let universities respond. What I don't want is a situation in which particular points of view that are presented respectfully and reasonably are shut down, and we have seen that sometimes happen."