In an email conversation with the president of the Texas A&M University group, Students for Trump, I received the following statement from Dion Okeke. His story has gone viral as it became public knowledge that after placing “Trump 2020 signs on campus, he received what he described as a threatening email from the A&M administration. Below he details the incident but also explores the ramifications of these actions and the concerns he has about freedom of speech for all.
In a look at his Twitter feed, the overriding sentiment by commenters is that democratic political signs, BLM signs, and others have been allowed, but the Trump campaign signs were the only ones to cause a stir. Okeke echoes that sentiment, stating that there is an increasing move away from conservative values at the university.
Below is his entire statement, unedited, as it was sent to me.
On November 2nd, members of Students for Trump at Texas A&M and myself, the president of the organization, placed “Trump 2020” signs within different areas on campus. Before finishing, officers from the University Police Department (UPD) asked us to pick back up the signs due to the risk of ground damage. After clarifying with their supervisor, they concluded that we are within our jurisdiction and our rights to place these signs. This conversation was followed by them asking if we would like to press charges on individuals who were found removing our signs. We decided to not press charges on those individuals.
One month later, on December 3rd, the Texas A&M administration emailed me regarding “placing signs on public property.” The rhetoric used in the email was quite indicative of disciplinary action being taken due to the placement of the Trump signs. Rhetoric includes “failure to contact the student conduct office by Friday, January 22, 2021, may result in an administrative hold being placed on your registration.” The letter further states “failure to comply with the direction of a University official and failure to appear resulting in the possibility of Student Conduct Code charges being brought against you.” This story, to which it stands would be a clear obstruction of my first amendment rights at the university. On December 3rd at 3:29 pm Jaclyn Upshaw-Brown, an administrator for the Student Conduct Office called me. Upshaw-Brown communicated to me that the reason I received that letter was due to the police report that officers made one month prior. She also mentioned the letter was simply an invitation to come in and discuss the events on November 2nd.
For clarification, an apology from Texas A&M was not made on this call and there was no mention that an incorrect template was used in the initial letter. A formal sincere apology was not made until Monday, December 7th. This, however, is not my concern.
My main concern is the lack of trust that is held between students and the current administration. Traditional Aggie core valued students, like me, are unfortunately not represented by the current Texas A&M administration. The Texas A&M administration claims to present content-neutral policies, recognition of the constitution of the United States of America, and acceptance of all political ideologies. However, as a current student, my perspective of Texas A&M policy and action says otherwise. The idea of silencing and lack of representation for Aggie core valued students, under today’s Texas A&M administration, is no secret. The clear and obvious biases that exist within our administration are evident and have been felt by students that stand by the core values of the university.
Therefore, due to the lack of trust and accountability being held within the administration, after receiving the call from Jaclyn Upshaw-Brown, I was not receptive to her reasoning. Thus, I questioned the authenticity of her findings and I believed it to be a suspicious explanation to a threatening letter that I had just received. Her reasoning communicated that this administration was seemingly backing down from their initial intention. I believe their initial intentions were to intimidate and discourage students, specifically myself, from expressing our political ideologies.
Later claims were made that the university utilized the incorrect email template for the initial letter. How often does that happen? If this was just a means of wanting to talk or gather additional information I question why the university didn’t contact me with the “Student Life” department, or the “Student Organization and Development Association,” or the “University Police Department.” Respectfully, this unfortunate string of events was due to a lack of communication on behalf of the University and a lack of trust students like myself have with the standing administration.
I also ponder the idea that what if I never took any action? What if I accepted the initial letter face value? Could Texas A&M have quietly slipped me under the rug when it was too late for me to act? This idea may be irrational or unfounded however, this is the reality and impression Texas A&M has indirectly or directly imposed on core valued students. Bear in mind, I want to give Texas A&M the benefit of the doubt however, that idea contrasts with my perception of the universities clear political biases. Overall despite my frustrations, I accept the apology made on behalf of the Texas A&M administration, and I look forward to my time in Aggieland. May this incident help us to facilitate a positive change for both students and Texas A&M University.
Dion Okeke ‘22