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Clemson student government VP leads forum on diversity, #TakeaKnee movement

After a week of turmoil surrounding the decision to sit down during the Pledge of Allegiance, Clemson University Undergraduate Student Government (CUSG) Vice President Jaren Stewart led a forum to respond to student concerns and questions.
During the forum, numerous students asked why Stewart and other CUSG senators sat during the pledge, and it continued to be a main point of contention throughout the night. Stewart emphasized the connection to Colin Kaepernick and the protests against police brutality.
“I took it as an opportunity to speak about injustice,” Stewart said. “I felt with my position, I could bring awareness to this issue.”
Other senators emphasized that their intention was not to go against the flag itself.
“We are not disrespecting the Flag,” CUSG Senator Willie Webb said. “We stand in solidarity with our fellow Americans.”
A related point the students in the forum emphasized was that they felt the decision was divisive, particularly since the Flag is considered among many to be a symbol of unity.
“Everybody should stand,” Justin Wilson, a veteran and senior Criminal Justice major, said. “We’re all Americans. Not black, not Asian, not white, not Italian. When we sit, it shows more division.”
In response to this, Stewart said that while unity is an ideal to strive for, and that just because racism isn’t as bad as it used to be, didn’t mean that there weren’t social divisions evident today.
“I’m protesting the fact that social divisions are still there,” Stewart said.
A separate point about how sitting in particular was painful for veterans and others in contrast to kneeling. Stewart admitted he hadn’t seen the difference before but that in the future, he would kneel instead to be more respectful.
The forum went on to discuss the campus demographics as well as those in fraternities and sororities, the diversity of life experience not being exclusively a racial claim, the actions of police brutality and responses to that. Many members in opposition to the act of sitting agreed that police brutality was an issue that needed to be addressed.
Overall opinions about the forum’s effectiveness vary.
“I think it went really well,” Wilson said afterwards. “We talked about a lot of topics. Everyone was really respectful.”
Alexander Cullen, a junior at Clemson and editor of the Tiger Town Observer, was more reserved.
“I’ve been to 15 or 17 dialogues,” he said. “More people showed up to this one, but it’s still the same faces.”
Stewart said he felt like the forum was a success.
“I feel that those who came were those [who] felt most passionately about the issue. We were able to set group norms of civility, and engage in a health dialogue,” Stewart said. “Many people criticize the concept of a safe space, but that is what was created for veterans, faculty, student government members, Greek life members and general students.”
Stewart also said that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter. As the student body vice president, I will continue to champion these causes no matter what resistance I am met with.”

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