This is my last Derby; as elections are tomorrow, you will soon have a new fearless leader of the Rensselaer Union. I was going to use this last Derby to give a history of Grand Marshal Week, encourage everyone to vote, thank everyone for a great year, and wish everyone luck in their future endeavors. However, in light of recent events, I would like to talk about the events on campus surrounding the American Sniper screening, from the perspective of a student leader who has family in the military.
I am sure you have heard something about American Sniper this week. I am also sure that many of you have heard misinformation. I have seen American Sniper, as many on campus have, and I think it is an excellent movie. I believe the movie shows the perspective of a soldier that most average American citizens do not normally see. The movie portrays challenges a soldier faces, not only when at war overseas, but more importantly the struggles he dealt with upon returning home to friends and family. I believe it is an incredible movie, and that Clint Eastwood has done a commendable job conveying the story and service of Chris Kyle. It is my belief that individuals would benefit from seeing this tribute to our soldiers, because that is what this movie is about. Not enough can ever be said or done to thank soldiers for their service to this country and to countries around the world.
With all of that said, there are things that need to be cleared up regarding the screening of American Sniper on our college campus. I support the decision of UPAC Cinema to reschedule the film. The emphasis here is that a student led group, which his part of our student-run Union, decided to reschedule the film, of their own accord, without administrative pressure. The petition circulated shortly after the postponement was announced contained misinformation, and since it was posted, the author has withdrawn his name from the petition and apologized publicly for unintentionally misleading his fellow students.
Most news articles students and alumni have read on external sites contain the same misinformation from the original petition, so I urge you to form your opinions using reliable sources. There has been so much negativity surrounding the club’s decision, which has led me to question why. It would be one thing if the club cancelled the film, and if they had said the film might bring about Islamophobia or believed the students at RPI couldn’t be trusted to form their own opinions, but they did not. UPAC Cinema received an e-mail (please note, this was an e-mail, not an outcry or giant protest) from our Muslim Students Association with their concerns regarding the film days before the film was to be shown. In order to allow time to make a thoughtful, proper decision about further actions, students secured the rights to show The Theory of Everything and reschedule the showing of American Sniper. In discussions that followed, it was decided that the clubs involved would host a discussion panel and invite student or recent alumni veterans to participate so that the campus community could have the opportunity to take part in a discussion about the film and current world events, thus putting the concerns and thoughts of various groups in context. The discussion is not a requirement to see the movie, only an opportunity for those interested. A similar discussion was held before the movie Selma on civil Rights then and now, which was very positively received by students and opened our community to further dialogue about race.
Taking all these facts into consideration, the events clearly do not a represent a case of censorship. Free speech and free thinking are not being attacked. This is a case where students listened to the concerns of their fellow students and decided that they could meet the needs of more students through promoting a way for those willing to further educate themselves on world cultures and current events, as well as to explore how these events might affect students here on our own campus. I applaud this effort.
There has been a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding surrounding this event. No actions taken in this case were meant to offend anyone. I am disheartened that this decision created so much unnecessary controversy. At its core, this was a decision made by students to benefit students and our campus, as a whole. If more groups acted like these two student groups, we could create environments where we might better understand one another.
American Sniper will be shown later this semester, with a discussion beforehand. I hope to see many of you there because it is up to us to educate ourselves in order create our own informed opinions about world issues.
Thank you, everyone, for a wonderful year. I wish all of you the best.