(Co-Written with Jonathan Taraya)
Note: “Your Opinion Matters” won 2nd place for an Opinions Story at the Journalism Association of Community Colleges (JACC) 2016 State Convention.
Cameron Weaver, student trustee of the Los Rios Community College District, has come under fire this past month after comments he made about the Holocaust during an interview with The Current, the student-run newspaper of American River College.
Since then, student senates district-wide have considered whether to hold a recall election.
For those on campus who have never heard of the Holocaust—which, although surprising, there are those who fit this category—the Holocaust, with a capital “H,” was the “mass murder of Jews under the German Nazi regime during the period 1941-5. More than 6 million European Jews, as well as members of other persecuted groups, were murdered at concentration camps such as Auschwitz,” according to the Oxford Dictionary.
This definition, with minor variations, matches those of the American Heritage Dictionary, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Der Spiegel, the German weekly news magazine renowned for its investigative journalism since 1947.
During his interview with The Current, however Weaver, said he doubted the accuracy of such official definitions and also doubted the number of Jewish deaths resulting from the Holocaust.
During an Oct. 14 public statement Weaver made to the City College Student Senate, he was given a chance to clarify the statements he made to The Current. One of the City College senators asked during the public comments portion of the meeting, “Are you a Holocaust denier?”
Weaver chose not to answer and reiterated that he was misrepresented in the media, including both student coverage and local professional coverage.
“He should have said nothing,” said Melissa Jones, a 37-year-old City College student who, prior to witnessing Weaver speak at the Senate hearing that day, said she did not know what the Holocaust was or why Weaver was making a statement.
“If you can’t think of what you’re saying before you say it, you shouldn’t be speaking to a reporter,” said Jones, a phlebotomy student and mother of five.
Certainly there are multiple sides to every story, including the narrative of the Holocaust.
The issue of the recall is whether Weaver, an alleged Holocaust denier, should continue to serve on the district board of trustees. In practice, the student trustee, who is elected by students at all the Los Rios campuses, is mostly a symbolic position. The trustee does not vote but attends Student Senate meetings, appoints student representatives to various committees and receives a stipend amounting to $8,534.04 for one year’s work.
But with the power of representing 77,074 students in the district comes visible responsibility.
As an American citizen, with the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment of our constitution, Weaver has every right to express his ideas, no matter how controversial they may be.
Yet, in his role as student trustee, is Weaver serving the office effectively when he promotes ideas in public that are not representative of the greater student populace, but are, in some circles, downright offensive?
His recall, were it ever to happen, should not be about whether he should possess mainstream thoughts or ideas, but should be about whether he effectively fulfills the main duty of his office, to “serve as a student leader of the District,” according to the student handbook, when he shares his unpopular opinions in public.
We feel Cameron Weaver fails in this duty.
We, in effect, agree with Jones’ assessment of the Weaver situation. Weaver, as our student representative, should have the wherewithal to know what to say and what not say to the press.
This issue is not uncommon. Politicians, whether at the college level or in the national arena, are constantly judged by what they say to the media. Even as you read this, the student senate president of American River College, David Hylton, is facing his own recall election for comments he made when defending Weaver in The Current.
We, as students of the district, get to choose how much our representatives’ public mistakes matter in the grand scheme of things.
We feel that the voice of one of the most diverse community college districts in the country should not be someone who disrespects the legacy of an entire people’s demise.
Our student trustee should be somebody who understands that the voices of those who have lost loved ones in places like Auschwitz and Treblinka will soon fade away with every passing decade.
There will come a time in the near future when no eyewitnesses or survivors will be alive and when that happens, it is our duty as citizens of the world to ensure the darkest parts of our history are accurately preserved, so future generations can learn and grow from the mistakes of our ancestors.
Of course, that’s just our opinion.