Sitting in his dormitory room one night, Richey Kemmling crafted a resolution stating University of Washington students support the war in Afghanistan.
An innocuous gesture, he figured.
But in the months since he introduced his bill to the UW student government, the 21-year-old senior accounting major has been called a racist, has received angry calls at his dorm room and has been jeered on the student senate floor.
Except when a few incendiary issues such as affirmative action were being discussed, attendance at student government meetings used to be spotty at best. But that was before Kemmling’s resolution turned the meetings into standing-room-only affairs.
His bill died in committee in late October, but the debate still reverberates around campus as others have introduced bills in support of and against the war, with none close to passing.
“Maybe it was my naiveness, but I thought (the resolution) was something that could bring people together,” Kemmling said. “I was incredibly wrong.”
Kemmling, a student senator and president of the College Republicans, thought his resolution was an appropriate gesture in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Opposition from Muslim students and campus peace activists was expected. But the surprise came when minority groups including the campus black and Hispanic clubs fought his resolution.
“The reason why a lot of students from the (minority clubs) were against the war resolution was because our purpose for existing is to make things more equal and get rid of institutional racism. And in this war, a certain ethnic group was singled out,” said Alex Narvaez, a board member on the Associated Students of the UW. “There are a lot of innocent people in Afghanistan.”
Among the passages in the resolution some found offensive: “The students of the University of Washington put their trust in the United States and our government.”
That brought outrage from freshman Anthony Rose, who recruited many minorities to fight the measure. Rose, a member of the Black Student Union and a student senator, said he and other blacks couldn’t allow such a blanket statement praising the U.S. government when there is discrimination and racial profiling, and when he and his black friends can’t walk in a white neighborhood without being stared at.
“They said if I walk in their shoes I would understand,” Kemmling said. “But I wish they would walk in my shoes and understand why I wrote this.”
Kemmling said he was disgusted to see his resolution become a race issue, and that some branded him a racist for his persistence.
It also doesn’t help that Kemmling is part of the College Republicans club that last spring brought to campus controversial speaker David Horowitz (not PSU Professor David A. Horowitz), who denounced the slave-reparations movement.
The problem, Rose said, is that Kemmling continues to push for the bill that some minorities found offensive so it appears he is insensitive to their concerns.
After the resolution died in a committee meeting last quarter, Kemmling tried to resurrect it on the senate floor.
In response, some student peace activists and minorities are pushing for the UW to take an anti-war stance. All war-related resolutions are being tabled until Jan. 15.
The student government did pass a resolution in November supporting American service members, but the measure stipulated that it was not support for the war.
That did little to quell the debate.
“That said nothing,” Kemmling said.
But Danica You, the student body president, said it’s fruitless to take a position on such a sensitive issue with such a diverse population that includes ROTC students and peace activists.
Still, Kemmling believes support for the U.S. efforts is patriotic, and despite the “torment” he said he has felt these past few months, he wants to continue to fight for the campus to take a stance supporting the war.