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Dissent: Harvard: Where Hate Speech is Welcome

By Jessenia N. Class and Laura S. Veira-Ramirez, Crimson Opinion Writers

“Wherever you are are home.”

The sign is meant to present Harvard as a welcoming place: a home to students from all different identities. The inspiring message pulls on the heartstrings of students passing through Harvard Yard as they walk to class. You almost believe it. You almost believe that a school which promotes such a message would never allow anything to make a student here feel otherwise.

The creation of the Open Campus Initiative has shown us where Harvard students’ values lie. It recently formed with the intention of bringing controversial speakers to Harvard as a way to promote free speech. By inviting these speakers, students are meant to engage in dialogue with people who have opposing viewpoints as a way to understand their opinions and bridge the partisan gaps between polarized groups in order to foster greater community. However, by allowing odious speakers on campus, Harvard is not promoting freedom of speech; it’s promoting hate speech.

Though OCI may claim not to agree with all the views presented by the speakers who are invited, they are still giving them a platform to speak. They are validating opinions which are extremely harmful to students that are being targeted on the basis of their existence and identity.

We saw these twisted, hateful views welcome earlier this week with an event featuring a transphobic and misogynistic speaker: Jordan Peterson. Peterson presents the kind of alienating opinion that OCI seems to value more than students' own identities. During the event, he rejected the delineation between biological sex and gender, refused to refer to people by their preferred gender pronouns, and rebuffed the existence of Women and Gender Studies as a field of academic study.

We must make it clear that this back and forth is not an even fight. Equating a single individual’s opinion to the same level of importance as an individual’s identity is unacceptable. We cannot afford to “test” the limits of free speech. A very clear line already exists; you are welcome to your own opinion so long as your opinion does not threaten another person’s existence. The line has been crossed here.

Our intent is not to simply deafen ourselves to the perspectives of others that contradict our own; on the contrary—we welcome ideas that are constructive, productive, and foster meaningful conversation about objective issues to broaden our horizons. Yet, when these platforms are instead manipulated and abused to further proselytize a disregard for another’s identity, we cannot sit idle and allow such hateful rhetoric to stew.

Through the creation of the Open Campus Initiative, it seems like we are moving backwards rather than moving forward. It enforces the notion that Harvard isn’t a home for everyone when a large portion of our student body cannot feel safe here.

Allowing such speakers on campus gives a message that the well-being of marginalized students is of little importance. Some of our colleagues on the Editorial Board seem to believe it is acceptable for such a burden to be placed on students by expecting them to attend these events in order to push back against those triggering opinions. Students who are members of the communities that have or will come under attack by controversial speakers already face enough discrimination on a daily basis.

Having to constantly defend one’s own identity and stand up for what’s right is absolutely draining. Having to constantly justify your own existence is exhausting. Is it asking too much to allow students to exist without constantly worrying about which speaker will be the next one to publicly invalidate their existence? Is it too much to ask that Harvard not be complicit in this charade?

We can’t expect marginalized students to stay quiet. We can’t allow these speakers on campus under the assumption that students who feel threatened should carry this weight tight-lipped. We have a powerful community of students who are willing to push back because they know where their values lie. Remaining complacent is not an option.

As an academic institution, Harvard is meant to place extreme value on a student’s pursuit of knowledge and education. By promoting hate speech, the Open Campus Initiative is being hypocritical in helping to foster students’ educational enrichment. Such an act deters a student’s ability to focus on academics when they have to spend their valuable time trying to convince someone, who hasn’t felt their struggles, that they are deserving of basic human rights.

There is nothing to be grateful for with this initiative. There is nothing to commend or be proud of. The potential for hate speech to flourish on campus through the Open Campus Initiative has an enormous negative effect on students personally affected by issues addressed by those speakers. The alleged possible benefits from having these speakers on campus would not come near outweighing the physical and emotional toll placed on students who feel the need to stand up for their own identities. For the sake of its students, Harvard should not allow such negative and harmful views to be legitimized and substantiated on campus.

Laura S. Veira-Ramirez ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor living in Canaday Hall. Jessenia Class ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor living in Canaday Hall.

DISSENTING OPINIONS: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.

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