Throwing Off the Veil of Political Correctness

SAY ANYTHING

Last Month "Citizens for a Fag Free KSG" e-mailed four fellow Kennedy School of Government students "Fuck your First Amendment. Stop crying faggot! Go fuck yourselves up the ass!" Later, they threatened in a separate memo "the niggers, chinks and spics are next."

This year there were two separate incidents in which swastikas were scrawled on loose leaf paper and left on undergraduate dorm room doors.

Last February, the Law School Record's anonymous satirical column "Fenno" decried the U.S. government's tendency to "only help colored folks and pointy headed Jews."

Such incidents of hate speech make you wonder what's happened to the ninety's P.C. Patrol. Is political correctness on the wane?

"There is still a culture of political correctness that limits what people say," says Robert H. Friedman, one of the publishers of the Law School Record who was involved in the Fenno controversy.

Friedman defended the Record columnist saying the comments weren't hate speech given the humorous intent of the piece.

"Fenno was trying to walk a line between political correctness and speaking directly," Friedman, says. "In each instance you need to take into account both the context and the motives of those concerned."

The Faculty's Resolution on Rights and Responsibilities, the administrative equivalent of a free speech bible, maintains the College must "affirm, assure and protect the rights of its members to organize and join political associations, convene and conduct public meetings, publicly demonstrate, and picket...and publicize opinion by print, sign, and voice." But how can the College ensure a comfortable speech environment and to what extent is the nature of speech determined by its context?

"Our faithfulness to fairness can be measured by the spectrum of opinion here at Harvard," says Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III. Epps says the number of political publications available on campus is evidence of the administration's encouragement of healthy student debate.

"I would say their presence is proof that we try to be evenhanded," Epps says.

Epps emphasized that when offensive speech does occur, the College issues an immediate response.

"Usually we can create a sense of balance if [someone from the administration] speaks out against it," says Epps. "The most important thing is to act promptly so the community knows where we stand."

But as Civil Liberties Union of Harvard (CLUH) Co-Chair Micah S. Myers '00 notes, the power of fighting speech with speech is limited.

"I think people should have a right to express opposing positions," says Myers. "Where I draw the line is when an explicit threat is made."

So what about cases such as Ralph Reed's speech earlier this year at the Institute of Politics ARCO Forum, where liberal protesters used tactics such as a kiss-in to prevent Reed from being heard? Is that threatening?