Armed ranchers occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, have demanded the federal government cede its ownership of the refuge since Jan. 2. The occupation, which erupted in violence late last month, has sparked debate about the media”s use of the word “terrorist,” as well as treatment of various ethnic and religious groups by media and law enforcement.
This was the topic of the latest Campus Conversation event, attended by a handful of University of Idaho students, faculty and community members Jan. 29.
The event, led by Outreach Social Justice Coordinator Courtney Stoker, began with a mind-mapping exercise. Stoker said this was the first time they had started the event with a mind map and she believed it was an effective way to kick-start discussion.
“I think it gave us a chance to see what everybody”s concerns were with such a big topic,” Stoker said.
Attendees discussed similarities between this conflict and other protests that have occurred, including the fatal conflict on Ruby Ridge in 1992 and the Ferguson, Missouri protests of 2014.
Jake McGinnis, a UI graduate student, was invited to speak at the event.
“We have to question where there are parallels between various protests, and how it”s racially coated,” McGinnis said. “The first question is, “How would this have been different if these guys weren”t white?””
Discussion during the event suggested that the attendees generally supported the movement but believed the tactics used were distracting and led to sensationalized headlines in the media.
“There was some good coverage,” McGinnis said. “But then again, maybe there was too much coverage.”
Interim Director of Student Involvement Shawn O”Neal said the tactics used by the Oregon militia, while mostly justifiable, were abnormal.
“Effective movements show the power they have without using violence,” O”Neal said.
The radical nature of the movement and the representative demographic have drawn the attention of national news. Discussions during the event displayed varying opinions regarding media coverage related to this topic.
“I think general media outlets are doing a pretty good job,” O”Neal said. “This is a uniquely western issue, and I think traditional media has done a good job educating people about it.”
O”Neal suggested that the sensationalized material related to this topic may have originated from social media. He said a large portion of today”s news is viewed via social media platforms – which anyone can contribute to.
“Any student is almost a producer of media – by the links they share, by the comments they make on Facebook and by the comments they leave on Twitter,” O”Neal said.
While social media may lead to unreliable material at times, Stoker seemed to suggest that the issue lies elsewhere.
“I think Shawn and I differ in our opinions on the media coverage just a little bit,” Stoker said. “I think the media coverage for this issue has been very convoluted.”
Stoker said she believes it isn”t social media that has distracted from the issue at hand, but rather the demographic involved. She said she believes if this were a minority group protesting it would have received far less media coverage to begin with.
Stoker said it”s important to have conversations, especially with people you may not agree with.
“There are ways to talk to people you disagree with and have a legitimate discussion with coherent discourse about a topic, without resorting to anger or hatred,” Stoker said. “One of the reasons we started the program was not necessarily to change people”s minds on certain topics, but just to make sure they have all the facts before they form an opinion.”
Stoker said Campus Conversations is a way to provide a platform for people to discuss uncomfortable topics when they don”t necessarily feel able to do that.
Austin Maas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @austindmaas