Mount Royal University Trump hat debate draws sharp opinions on Alberta@Noon

Should there be limits on what can be said on a university campus to make it a safe space? Should university students get a ‘trigger warning’ before hearing something in class they may find disturbing?

'How many safe spaces do we have in life?' asks one caller

Ian Soliterman wearing a 'Make America Great Again' hat in support of Donald Trump. Soliterman filmed an argument between a man wearing a similar hat and a woman at Mount Royal University. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

Should there be limits on what can be said on a university campus to make it a safe space? Should university students get a 'trigger warning' before hearing something in class they may find disturbing?

Alberta@Noon listeners were asked to weigh in on the debate Friday after a Mount Royal University student was challenged by another student for wearing a 'Make America Great Again' hat on campus in support of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.

"As a person who really who has no use for Donald Trump, I was happy to see the woman critical of that. But the student wearing the hat had every right to wear it and advocate for Trump," guest Jim Turk, director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University, told host Rob Brown. 

"The way you deal with speech you find offensive or you don't like, is to be criticizing it, not by trying to take away the person's freedom of expression rights."

Matt Linder was challenged for wearing a hat with the slogan Make America Great Again at Mount Royal University. (Youtube)

Another guest, Melanee Thomas, an assistant professor of political science specializing in gender and politics at the University of Calgary, said someone wearing the hat doesn't make Mount Royal unsafe.

"I, as a university instructor, fundamentally reject the idea that somehow, outside of the requirements of the Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code relating to hate speech, we need to regulate ideas so that students who are uncomfortable with some ideas, don't have to actually wrestle with that discomfort," Thomas said.

"Often, much of what I teach is actually quite uncomfortable, and part of the course ... is learning how to address and deal with that," she added.

The video shows a student wearing a red hat with the Trump slogan across the front challenged by a woman who says she finds it offensive and demands he take it off. The man refuses and a crowd gathers, followed by back and forth verbal jousting between the two.

Ian Soliterman filmed the incident and told the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday he was surprised by the reaction the hat elicited. 

"It's all about diversity, freedom of expression and speech, so to me I had to film it," he said.

"I didn't expect the publicity. To be honest I think it was her misunderstanding, and having an uneducated stance on the entire U.S. election. I don't mean to just put the nail on her. I get a lot of criticism on Facebook for my Trump views." 

Safe space misunderstanding

There's a sticker on Thomas' office door declaring it a safe space, but not everyone understands exactly what it means.

"The origins of that was to literally create a physically safe space for gender identity expression and for sexual minorities," she said.

Thomas said she offers trigger warnings to students, but only when dealing with serious subjects like the use of rape as a weapon of war. Having 20 to 30 students in a room, she said it is likely one or more will be a survivor of sexual assault.

"What it's designed to do is give the students some lead time to prepare themselves for whatever they need to do to address the content that's coming in the room," she said.

"It certainly is not designed to allow students to escape things they don't agree with in their personal beliefs or they think is boring, or is just something they don't want to address or makes them uncomfortable."

Callers weigh in

A number of callers agreed.

"How many safe spaces do we have in life?" said Reagan Johnston from Grand Prairie.

"I think universities should be bringing up the next generation to understand things aren't as peachy-keen in the real world as it is at universities. And it's entirely up to you to be offended. It's not anyone else who makes you offended, you are letting your emotions boil over."

Calgarian Nathaniel Mah said he understands why the hat was considered offensive.

"I feel like there's misunderstanding on both sides of the picture," he said.

"There was a lot of people [commenting on the Facebook video] who were saying the girl literally meant the saying 'Make America Great Again' is hate language. And I think a lot of what she's saying is, not so much that that is hate language, but what the hat represents as a whole."

James Walper from Red Deer said: "People should be able to avoid bad situations ... But in the same sense, we can't create a professional state of victimization.

"It would be nice to actually have people understand free speech is a human right, it's one of these things we can't take for granted," he said.

Stu Hughes said the focus should be on Canadian issues instead.

"Why are we focusing on the U.S.? We have hundreds and hundreds of problems here that are even more volatile and more important than talking about the U.S.," he said.

As a standup comic for the last 17 years, Hughes said free speech is the cornerstone of his business.

"It's very difficult sometimes to see the political correctness that's happening," he said.

"We cannot coddle these students, these are the next generation of people who are going to be leading, we've got to let them say whatever they want."

With files from Alberta@Noon

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?