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Regulate Hate Speech


By Melanie R. Williams

THE staff position asserts that the raison d'etre of a University is the "free exchange of ideas." We vehemently disagree. Harvard exists primarily as a learning environment. What does anyone learn from a hateful epithet? Nothing. How is learning hurt when hate speech is protected? Such speech can alienate entire groups, compel them to leave and thus restrict the diversity of ideas expressed here.

An anti-harassment code, in other words, is protection of the free exchange of diverse ideas for the purpose of learning from them. The staff position agrees with this assertion, in part, by admitting that private harassment is clearly prohibited by the constitution. Yet the staff position ignores that public speech can harass in as injurious a fashion as private speech. Imagine rallies in the Yard calling for a certain group to leave. Imagine students wearing t-shirt bearing racial epithets.

The issues of "public speech" and "private harassment" are not clearly separable. Is the solution, then, to ignore the obvious gray area and allow all hateful speech? Of course not. Neither is it to ban all offensive speech. The solution is to appoint a group comprised of students, faculty and administrators to discuss borderline cases.

Currently, cases of harassment and speech are decided behind closed doors by the Ad Board. A student-faculty-administration committee on free speech would be a fair way to deal with the gray areas more openly. The Faculty should appoint a free speech committee with such carefully delinated responsibility. While it would be ideal for a "community" to set the standards of speech completely as the staff position implies, such a mechanism is unrealistic and unreliable. As long as students have equal input, we see a balanced committee as the most fair of possible solutions.

One final fallacy underlying the staff position is that abhorrent ideas must always be driven into the light so they can be combatted. Personally, our primary interest is not necessarily seeing how racist, sexist and homophobic our classmates are. We would prefer to study in an academic environment where all groups feel safe to exchange a wide range of ideas.

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