‘Hate Speech’ and the Role of the Round Table

By Tana Goar

Before endorsing a policy which could result in a Beloit student’s expulsion, I want to take a moment and ask: What is hate speech?

Easy! You say. Hate speech is whatever hurts people. It’s bigoted and stereotypical. It’s offensive and intentionally cruel. It’s a form of bullying. It does not hold up on ethical or moral ground and it indicates the speaker’s deeply-entrenched fears of the “Other”.

An example might be our student-run newspaper printing (and then not apologizing for printing) the opinion, “(Group) is creepy.”

So, this is why it’s important for our community to seriously consider the extent of hate speech before putting any policies in place. At what point do freedom of the press and freedom of speech become matters of administrative intervention? What “opinions” are intolerable at Beloit College? Investigating this issue for myself, I re-wrote a sentence from the “Greek Tripe” article (Issue 11), substituting various social groups, identities, and organizations into the sentence to test the boundaries of Hate Speech. This is an opinion piece because the feedback is limited to my personal reactions, so as you read, I encourage you to ask yourself: how does this statement make me feel? Is this statement hate speech? Why? Would this statement belong in the Round Table, on WBCR, or in the Alumni magazine? Should a student face expulsion for printing this statement?

•     Niggers are creepy.

To me, this is hate speech. The N-Word is offensive and blatantly unacceptable in this derogatory, prejudiced context. There’s a reason  a student should face expulsion for using or printing this a statement like this.

•    Black people are creepy.
•    White people are creepy.

Why am I more offended by 1 than by 2? Maybe it’s because I’m a white woman; maybe white people are creepy and my privilege has allowed me to believe otherwise. But race isn’t something you choose, so I would definitely call statement 1 hate speech. But is statement 2 hate speech too?

That aside, it’s already become obvious to me that attacking someone based on a marginalized identity or social group they’re born into is unacceptable. Gay, Hispanic, black, female, working class, trans-bodied, or differently-abled, we can list a string of epithets and stereotypical crap constantly flung at individuals who fit (or appear to fit) in these categories. Some of these students are on Beloit College campus. A Hate Speech Policy would stand up for their right to address their verbal attackers and seek reparations. That seems fair to me.

•    Greek life is creepy.

But what about the stereotypical branding we face because of the organizations, identities, social groups, and public images we choose? More specifically: about which groups will the Round Table authorize printed complaints (“opinion pieces”), and what level of stereotyping is acceptable on the contributor’s part? At what point will the Round Table call an opinion hate speech and refuse to print the article? I chose to be in Greek life, but I’ve been told that letting other people have their opinions and letting the Round Table print those opinions to fully represent Beloit’s student body. I’ve been told in the last few weeks that letting someone insult me and how I live my life is just something I should expect – after all, I chose to be in Greek Life. The complaints are “based in truth”. That’s different from being gay or black or working class.

But I also chose to be Christian.

•    Christians are creepy.
•    Wearing a hijab (a Muslim woman’s headscarf) is creepy.

If the “Greek Tripe” was submitted again to the Round Table, this time with “Greeks” replaced by “Christians” or “Muslim women who wear the hijab”, would you call it acceptable journalism? Would it be hate speech? Should the Round Table print it?

Hate speech is whatever hurts people. It’s bigoted and stereotypical. It’s offensive and intentionally cruel. It’s a form of bullying. To those who defend every student’s right to a printed opinion, I encourage you to contribute to the debates on the Hate Speech Policy – what do you want to make sure is still allowed in the Round Table come next year?

As we discuss the possibility of implementing a Hate Speech policy, I also encourage everyone involved in the debates to consider how the policy will be enforced. And where will the policy be enforced? In an English classroom discussing Huck Finn? In a Round Table article bewailing Greek life?

What is “hate speech”? And in the Round Table, where students are promised some freedom of opinion, will the Round Table staff be held accountable for printing it?



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