Keeping the Focus on Hate Speech

By Max Olin

On April 4 some seniors and I, under the name “Concerned Students for Policy Change,” put up two posters all around campus. One of the posters said “Beloit College doesn’t care if you say the word nigger on campus” and the other said “nigger.” What was interesting was how two different demographics responded to the posters.

The “Beloit College doesn’t care…” poster drew the attention of the college’s administrators while the student body focused on the n-word poster. A number of students had not seen the “Beloit College doesn’t care…” poster and judged our entire movement solely by the n-word poster. Students proceeded to question the productivity of trying to advance our movement by using the n-word poster.

We were pleased to be making progress with the administration, but we were a little disappointed at aspects of the students’ initial response. Instead of focusing on the content of our actions, some students were hung up on the shock value methodology that we had decided to use. They were unable to transcend their initial feelings of discomfort. The argument that there was no context to our signs and that, in general, people would agree with us without needing to be inflammatory were valid criticisms. So, in recognizing these criticisms, we agreed to give students more context by posting a “press release” via stuboard on Tuesday, April 5.

However, this accommodation to the aforementioned criticisms went unnoticed since students continued to take down our new signs on April 6. These new signs had students’ testimonials written on them describing situations in which they had experienced hate speech. Our question now is: are we being targeted because of the tactics we have employed, or are people actually opposed to policies creating closure to incidents of hate speech?

While we are glad that people are talking about hate speech, we are fearful that some students are distracting others through suggesting tangents to the larger campus conversation. If you want to be a true member of our movement, then join our efforts and be part of the change. Critiquing from the sidelines will not help build a strong coalition for policy change.

What we as a campus need to focus on is that we cannot consider ourselves an institute of inclusive excellence if acts of exclusive dissonance continue to happen. The college needs to take a stand against hate speech. Students need to develop the maturity and skills to self-regulate social situations in which hate speech arises. The main problem at heart here is that there is no structural support from the college and no cultural support from the students to effectively combat racist, homophobic, and discriminatory actions. Forget about the methodology; that was a tool to get your attention. Now, we want you to rally with us to solve this central problem. We have the power to change as long as we stay focused and put aside the trivial details.



One thought on “Keeping the Focus on Hate Speech

  1. These problems are not at all new. Personally I question precisely what the college policies you suggest are. In 2001 after our group (Random Propaganda) put up fliers mocking a fraternity’s rush fliers, I spoke with Bill Flanagan and he was basically like, look, you can put up the fliers and it’s no problem from an administration perspective, but you can hardly be surprised if some students are unhappy about what you’ve said.

    Self-censorship of fliers by students at Beloit was a major phenomena while I was there, and times have not changed with a new generation of students. Students had (or seem to still have) no regard for whether censorship was (is) a good idea, and they just did (do) it anyway. This led to us making a set of fliers with a bio-hazard icon and “Military Grade Contact Vector Ebola” which were also torn down. I think then we put a set of ones that essentially encouraged litter as a way to make Beloit beautiful if people tore down the flier and dropped it on the ground (a not uncommon lazy approach we had encountered frequently). Of course we focused on mockery as a way to try to get people to process a complex thought, but usually they just didn’t think about even the basics of rhetoric.

    There are and have been plenty of venues for discussing these ideas in the classroom. For example, we read the text Hate Speech on Campus in Violence Non-Violence. There was a special offering on Ethics of Propaganda as well from a visiting professor. And there are courses on rhetoric as well as various media course offerings.

    Of course you focus here on hate speech itself, which is important, and I say little comment to the point since I don’t worry if you are on track about that matter. However, I think flier policies are one of the things this affects, but there always seemed more of a problem with unsigned fliers and students tearing fliers down that didn’t belong to them than legitimate hate speech concerns. In fact, in my four year tenure, I can only remember one flier that was clearly hate speech, and it was unsigned. If one begins to enforce anti-hate speech rules, one ought to equally enforce anti-censorship rules, too. But when I was doing my Masters in Canada, there one had to get official approval of fliers before they could be posted. I don’t think you want to go that route. So what do you do? I think what you do is enforce that fliers must be signed by individuals or groups. Then if controversy arises, one just organizes a discussion. On a small campus, this is a trivial matter. We had quite a few Op-Ed or opinion letters in the Round Table, as well as likely a two hour discussion after we posted some signs that said, “Promote Rape.” I won’t go into the context here, but it was in response to another movement on campus we felt was absurd.

    To me it’s less important to define the lines of hate speech as much as just ensure that means of discussion are possible. When students censor each other or don’t sign their posters, the ability to interact and consider various oppositional views is destroyed.

    Posted by daid kahl | April 29, 2011, 5:23 am

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