'Hostility may be warranted' to fight 'hate speech,' students say

The editors of The Wellesley College News got defensive last week over suggestions that Wellesley College is a hostile environment for free speech.

“Many outside sources have painted us as a bunch of hot house flowers who cannot exist in the real world,” the staff editorial begins. “However, we fundamentally disagree with that characterization, and we disagree with the idea that free speech is infringed upon at Wellesley. Rather, our Wellesley community will not stand for hate speech, and will call it out when possible.”

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“Wellesley students are generally correct in their attempts to differentiate what is viable discourse from what is just hate speech. Wellesley is certainly not a place for racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia or any other type of discriminatory speech,” the editorial explains. “Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech.”

According to the editors, the First Amendment’s broad guarantee that government “shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech” was actually intended as a very narrow protection that does not apply to all forms of speech.

“The founding fathers put free speech in the Constitution as a way to protect the disenfranchised and to protect individual citizens from the power of the government,” they assert. “The spirit of free speech is to protect the suppressed, not to protect a free-for-all where anything is acceptable, no matter how hateful and damaging.”

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“This being said, the tone surrounding the current discourse is becoming increasingly hostile,” the continue, saying that while “the mark of a good education” is exposure to diverse points of view, “it is inevitable that there will be moments in this growth process where mistakes will happen and controversial statements will be said,” and arguing that “these questionable claims should be mitigated by education as opposed to personal attacks.”

One exception to that rule, though, is that “hostility may be warranted” in retaliation for “hate speech” that students may encounter on campus.

“If people continue to support racist politicians or pay for speakers that prop up speech that will lead to the harm of others, then it is critical to take the appropriate measures to hold them accountable for their actions,” the editorial asserts. “It is important to note that our preference for education over beration regards students who may have not been given the chance to learn.”

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However, the editors insist that they are not interesting in “policing” others’ views, saying they aren’t interested in the “intense” “emotional labor” required to “educate” their peers.

“There is no denying that problematic opinions need to be addressed in order to stop Wellesley from becoming a place where hate speech and casual discrimination is okay. However, as a community we need to make an effort to have this dialogue in a constructive and educational way in order to build our community up,” they conclude. “Talk-back, protest videos, and personal correspondences are also ways to have a constructive dialogue. Let us first bridge the gap between students in our community before we resort to personal attacks.”

Access to the original link was limited after the article was posted.

Campus Reform reached out to Wellesley College for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AutumnDawnPrice