In light of recent hate incidents on campus, the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) held a forum on hate speech last Thursday.
Matt Richman, sophomore history major, moderated the discussion, and opened by saying that PSA wants students to “come out and talk about things that have happened on campus that demean or marginalize a group of people.” The most recent hate crime on campus occurred three weeks ago when a student found a swastika on her door.
Ellen Friedman, director of the women’s and gender studies program, and Richard Kamber, chair of the philosophy department, were invited to speak.
Friedman, author of “Morality USA,” addressed many specific examples of hate speech both on and off college campuses, including the case of Nina Wu at the University of Connecticut (UConn).
The university had evicted Wu from her dorm room and banned her from all dormitories and cafeterias because she had posted a list of people who would be shot on sight, including, “preppies, bimbos, men without chest hair, homos.”
UConn had a very strong hate speech policy, which prohibits personal slurs or epithets on its campus. After this trial went to court, UConn allowed Wu back into her dorm. The courts decided that the University’s policy undermined freedom of speech.
Kamber explained the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) argument for total freedom of speech. Kamber said, according to ACLU, “the best remedy for hate speech is to confront it and to deny it.”
Kamber, however, believes that there are some limits on speech. The freedom of speech does not give you the right to commit fraud, perjure oneself or run around naked. He also drew the distinction between public and private speech acts. If a racial slur is used at a rally to describe a large group of people, this is permitted under free speech.
However, if a student on campus uses a racial slur to describe a person they are talking to, this can be considered harassment. Controversial speech acts at the College have ranged from slightly offensive homecoming posters to Stephen White, a pentacostal preacher who caused controversy with his verbal attacks on students of the College last year.
Students agreed that the campus response to hate speech is very positive. Teach-ins and open mic rallies have been held in support of campus unity after separate events of homophobia and anti-Semitism.
Maren Cummings, sophomore philosophy major, said, “There is a really big distinction between TCNJ the institution and the students that make up TCNJ.”
While the College condemns attitudes that demean a group of people, students at the College do not always have consideration for others in casual speech. “That’s so gay” can frequently be heard while walking across campus, despite its anti-gay undertones.
Some students in attendance questioned Campus Life’s posting policy. Currently, all posters or table tents must be approved by Campus Life. Recently, posters which read, “Don’t be a sissy,” or “Got balls?” were approved, even though they have connotations that could offend some students.
The prevailing sentiment of the forum was that if hate speech has to exist on campus, concerned students should be allowed to speak out against it.