Free speech is essential to democracy, but many college campuses are faced with a debate on whether they will continue to support free speech over fighting for inclusive, safe environments for all. Several incidents of hate speech over recent months have demonstrated this.
On February 29, Rush Limbaugh weighed in on the contraception debate, calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a prostitute for testifying before an unofficial Congressional hearing on health-care coverage for contraceptives. Fox News also tried to claim Fluke had extensive connections to the Obama Administration.
At Towson University in Maryland, the group Youth for Western Civilization (YWC) sparked controversy after chalking messages of “white pride” across campus. CBS news reported in a March 16 article in the Caroll County Times that YWC members had chalked messages that included, “white southerners got it right,” and, “anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.”
In response to the controversy, Towson University held a forum on Thursday, March 8, entitled “Unity in the Community.” The forum was meant to prompt open dialogue about women, civil, religious, and LBGTQ rights. The program lasted for over four hours, with student speeches demonstrating how far colleges campuses really need to go to become inclusive communities.
YWC has regularly resorted to offensive rhetoric in the past, calling a gay-rights organization “a ferociously angry gay group.” The YWC chapter at Towson University also dubbed Occupy Towson participants, “disease-ridden degenerates,” and referred to the Islamic Student Union as a “terrorist front organization.” It is impossible to construe those statements as anything other than hate speech.
Free speech should not be used as a smoke screen to underhandedly endorse explicit racism and hate speech. Hate speech hurts not just individuals but our communities at large, as well, and there are numerous reports that draw clear correlations between hate speech, hate crimes, and hate violence.
Educational institutions should be inclusive spaces, and campus communities must sincerely address notions of inclusiveness in the face of such incidents of hate speech. The nativist movement at large continues to target educational institutions as forums for swaying public opinion. We must not witness a reversal in the social gains made over recent decades toward prohibiting segregation in the institutions we so value.