In July, a law professor penned a commentary piece in which he claimed that "MAGA," or "Make America Great Again," hats are an "undeniable symbol of white supremacy and hatred toward certain nonwhite groups" after a student wore one to his class. In response, a conservative third-year law student, who attended the professor's class, wrote that his interpretation of a MAGA hat is a "grotesque attack on the politics of a student."
Jeffrey Omari, a visiting assistant professor at the Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane, Wash., said that his "blood boiled" when a student wore a MAGA hat to his classroom in his post written for the American Bar Association Journal.
"From my (progressive) perspective as a black man living in the increasingly polarized political climate that is America, MAGA is an undeniable symbol of white supremacy and hatred toward certain nonwhite groups," Omari wrote. "I was unsure whether the student was directing a hateful message toward me or if he merely lacked decorum and was oblivious to how his hat might be interpreted by his black law professor ... As the student sat there directly in front of me, his shiny red MAGA hat was like a siren spewing derogatory racial obscenities at me for the duration of the one hour and 15-minute class."
Omari went on to write that he respects students' rights to free speech, and to freely express their political beliefs, but felt that the student was intentionally attempting to "intimidate and/or racially antagonize" him, as none of his fellow colleagues experienced students wearing political gear in their classrooms.
On Wednesday, a response from Gonzaga Law student Austin Phelps was published by the ABA Journal.
Phelps, a student of Omari’s, admitted that he wore "conservative apparel,” including a MAGA hat and a Trump-Pence 2020 T-shirt, to his class.
"After reading his article, I understand why I was not called on with the frequency that left-leaning students enjoyed," Phelps wrote.
Phelps went on to state that freedom of speech allows him to wear such apparel, and that it “allows me to tell Omari that he is wrong, and that his interpretation of a MAGA hat is nothing but a grotesque attack on the politics of a student."
“Wearing a MAGA hat or any other conservative paraphernalia does not make me a white supremacist, anti-Semite, bigot or any other stereotype that may be misapplied. The purpose of wearing a MAGA hat is to identify as a supporter of Donald Trump and as a believer in conservative values,” Phelps wrote.
The third-year law student further claimed that he and fellow conservative students do not speak up for fear of placing a "target" on their backs in law school.
"With an overwhelming majority of faculty falling left on the political spectrum, some will inevitably take strides to not only push their ideology on students, but to also ensure that conservative voices are not heard in the conversation," Phelps wrote. "This happens through contrived dress codes and insinuating, or even enforcing, the mandatory removal of MAGA hats in the classroom."
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