American Sniper was the year’s top-grossing film, so it makes sense that student-run groups in charge of campus life and activities would want to screen it at their universities. The University of Michigan, University of Texas at Arlington, and most recently University of Maryland have all tried to show the movie at an event for student, and all of them have faced backlash from minority student groups. University of Michigan decided to go ahead with the screening, saying that it is important for them to protect their students freedom of speech and expression. Even if some student groups find the film offensive, the university said, the students who chose that movie and the students who want to see it still have a right to do so. UTA will allow the student group that governs resident life to show the movie, citing similar reasons. At the University of Maryland, the screening remains cancelled.
Oklahoma State University decided to go ahead with screening a film called, “Honor Diaries,” despite objections from their Muslim students’ association. “Honor Diaries” is a documentary that tells the story of nine Islamic women who have survived abuse at the hands of extremists, often family members. Some of the women were subjected to genital mutilation, others had been beaten or exposed to honor killings according to Sharia law. The film was shown at an event promoting “Sexual Violence Awareness Month.” Screenings of “Honor Diaries” were cancelled at University of Michigan at Dearborn and the University of Illinois in Chicago following complaints that the documentary stereotyped Muslims somehow, despite the fact that it is a documentary and the victims of these crimes were themselves Muslim.
The only reason given by Muslim student groups and other social justice oriented student clubs for wanting these films to be shown is that they’re offensive and they might hurt someone’s feelings. OSU students complained that “Honor Diaries” perpetuated negative stereotypes of Muslims, which really just shows how little faith they have in their fellow college students to distinguish between extremist sects and more modernized, western sects of Islam that go against terrorism.
Here we have five more cases of people attempting to deal with speech that makes them feel bad by silencing others. Students opposed to these films are not simply using their own freedom of speech to voice their objections; they are actively trying to stop other students from watching them or showing them to other students. Students were not forced, or even asked by administration to attend the screening. It was simply an event that students were welcome to go to if they chose. One student, Jenny Nguyen of UTA seems to have it right. She has stated that she will not buy a ticket to the movie night and she is organizing other students to boycott the event, but she is not calling for the screening to be cancelled.
At least that’s one person who seems to understand that other students have the right to watch a movie of their choosing, and she has a right to simply not attend.