Discourse / Editorials / February 19, 2020

Thoughts from the Embers round table: Discussing the freedom of speech

Editors discuss the issue of free speech and its intersections with hate speech as it relates to recent events on campus such as the hate speech written on the graffiti wall

Connor:

We have to fight bigotry wherever we see it. We cannot allow hate speech on campus or in our wider communities, but we have to be careful with our mechanisms for doing so. Besides the legal question of private institutions limiting free speech on their properties, we also have to consider that rights are not legal entities but innate aspects of being human, whether they derive from human decency, God or any other source.

Since we cannot expect decency to be a universal trait, certain, well-defined limitations can be acceptable. Especially when it regards the well being of our peers, if we cannot stop bigotry at an individual level we need to consider ways to prevent it from requiring additional, hurtful, emotional labor from marginalized groups. People have been allowed to hide behind anonymous messages, revealing the base cowardice of bigotry.

Limitations on free speech impact the paper as well and move us ever closer to lacking an open source of information and discourse on campus. What we cannot allow are mechanisms without clear limits. Any mechanism which is implemented, be it school administration policy or Student Senate decisions, must be clearly defined and. They cannot be instant reactions to uncomfortable situations because they will outlast these timeframes. If we accept these oversights, how long before we have to accept oversight over publications or art and TKS becomes a weekly version of Knox Magazine?

At some point in the future, these mechanisms will also be used, likely unintentionally but sooner than expected, against marginalised groups. Limiting freedom of expression leaves open the possibility of the restrictions being used on marginalized communities, failing their original purpose. While this may not happen anytime soon, it is almost guaranteed to happen in the future. So, we should simply not have those mechanisms to begin with.

 

Alicia: When espousing hateful insults, often times the First Amendment of the Constitution is invoked. This protects you from government restrictions, but it will not protect you from societal repercussions. Accountability for your actions remain regardless of whatever law or right you call upon to your aid.

The U.S. Supreme Court has seen its fair share of cases involving the limits of speech. It has made landmark decisions such as establishing the fighting words doctrine in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire or Virginia v. Black which made direct intimidation unprotected speech. Despite what the court has decided is not allowed, there is still a lot that remains permitted.

This brings about the moral twilight zone of speech. Whether or not something is explicitly written in law does not declare it a moral ideal. It is not difficult to look back on history and see that lawful things were in fact wrong and unjust. However it is important to acknowledge the legality behind these matters, considering that the United States is a country with a liberal use of free speech and press. In a country like Poland that is democratic and generally “free,” the recently passed Holocaust Law of 2018 makes it a criminal offense if a person accuses the state or the people at the time to have supported/assisted the Nazi occupation, punishable by fine or jail time.

I bring up court cases and international history to provide perspective on a microcosm of a situation happening on campus. There is a difference between respectful discourse and ignorant bigotry in which its goal is superiority, not understanding.

The laws that are passed bear weight on our society and how it functions. Society has not been getting increasingly hateful and ignorant, it has just become more visible as platforms increase. The graffiti wall has been a method of student expression that has not always been used appropriately. However, students have a right to react to it. The erasure of a platform does not solve the actual issue at hand: hateful ideologies. It will not remove their sentiments, which is why it is important for dialogue to continue and flourish. A resolution does not come through resentful silence.

 

Samuel: Free speech is difficult to defend when it is used to target vulnerable groups of people. But I don’t think defending free speech means one defends hurtful speech. Hurtful speech is what we tolerate for the sake of free speech.

It may feel like if we remove the graffiti wall we have removed the ignorance from our campus, but we do not. It is very likely the student or students who wrote the problematic messages are still here. I think the issue of the graffiti wall is larger than the wall and instead of using it as a culprit or effigy of the hatred, the wall can serve as something more importantÑa tool of awareness and a tool for the expression of support for the communities that were targeted.

My concern is that demolishing the graffiti wall would hide students’ ignorance from the public consciousness. If there is bigotry at my school, I want to know. Furthermore, I think it is important for prospective students to know – rather than the bigotry be something we do not talk about but pretend we have reconciled rather than only driven into hiding to surface again later somewhere new.

Awareness is important, though I do not support keeping the wall just for the sake of allowing people the opportunity to make others feel unsafe. If removing the wall does not remove the hatred it amplified and if awareness of ignorance is important, it is only so important as the amount of work that people in communities beyond those targeted do to support the students of targeted communities. Awareness of bigotry is only so useful measured against an allies’ response to bigotry.

I think that support is found through free speech, through dialogue and conversation. The difficulty is when bigots remain anonymous and we cannot speak to them as we need to. But if they remain anonymous, their voices, though hurtful and ignorant, will remain small, limited by only what they manage to get in when no one is looking.

If we allow their words to demolish the entire conversation together, we amplify their voices beyond the small, short-lived margins they ought to remain.

 

Carlos Flores-Gayton was not on this weeks editorial board as he reported on the graffiti wall story, while Soleil Smith was also not on this editorial board as she is involved in some of the events in question.


Tags:  censorship free speech graffiti wall hate speech tks

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