Hate speech is not free speech on campus

The Editorial Board criticizes the university’s decision to safeguard hate speech but not defend a student wrongfully punished for expressing free speech.

We, as the independent, student-run newspaper of Temple University, well know the importance of First Amendment rights in our campus community. In the Bill of Rights, our right to free speech is listed alongside our right to a free press.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder on May 25 and the protests following it, we’ve seen Temple respond to at least a dozen instances of current and incoming students seen on social media using hateful, racist language. 

On June 4, Temple tweeted a response to these events saying that each one was reported to the Dean of Students and the university will “take action as warranted.” 

Then, on June 5, Temple tweeted a clarification on the university’s disciplinary policy for offensive speech, stating the university “respects the First Amendment rights of all, including those that express unpopular and even hateful speech that is antithetical to the university’s mission.” 

Temple also referenced the university’s Student Conduct Code, stating it is “in accord with the First Amendment and students are not disciplined solely for speech unless circumstances indicate there is a violation under the Code.”

The university’s Student Conduct Code does not include any reference to hateful speech or racism. Instead, it asks students to respect all university and local community members regardless of race. 

That same day, Temple also tweeted that “recognizing everyone’s First Amendment rights does not mean that Temple tolerates racism.”

Earlier this week, we wrote about the importance of uplifting the Black Lives Matter movement in our community in the wake of Floyd’s murder. Since then, we’ve seen Black Lives Matter protests expand to our own campus and one of our own students, Evan Gorski, beaten by a now-charged Philadelphia Police Inspector for exercising First Amendment rights in protesting for racial justice.

Temple released a statement in the wake of Floyd’s murder opposing racial oppression. The university has not released any details on disciplining students involved in racist social media posting or commented on Gorski.

In the past few weeks, we’ve come to know the weight of the phrase “silence is violence” as it pertains to actively speaking out against racial injustice, and we want to be clear: on our campus, hate speech is not free speech. 

The university has an obligation to students to create a welcoming and safe campus for students to learn, live and socialize between many groups of people. Temple cannot condone racist and hateful speech, especially when this threatens the physical and emotional security of its students, faculty and staff.

While we encourage students to express their political and ideological viewpoints in healthy discourse, we do not welcome hateful or racist speech in these conversations. Hate speech can create a hostile academic environment that is disruptive to the learning process for people of color.

Therefore, the Editorial Board believes that in the Temple community, racism in hateful speech needs to be actively fought against, denounced and barred. Not condemning hate speech is tolerating it.

The university’s inability to protect the First Amendment rights of a student speaking out against racism while simultaneously permitting other students to express racist speech puts the entire Temple community — students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members — in danger.

The Student Conduct Code states Temple recognizes ignorance and violence have no place on campus, values diversity and strives to understand all cultures and experiences of students. It also states that only when “the university’s interests as an academic community are substantially involved should the special authority of the university be asserted.” 

With the university stating hateful speech is “antithetical to the university’s mission,” the Editorial Board strongly believes that “the university’s interests as an academic community” are threatened by the use of this hateful speech by students. As such, we insist the university recognizes the violent nature of hate speech and acknowledges the responsibility to assert “special authority” and take action to protect the community. Otherwise, by respecting hate speech that is antithetical to the university’s mission, the university is antithetical in failing to upkeep its mission. 

The Editorial Board first and foremost calls on the university to denounce and expel students involved in racist acts or in sharing racist language and to publicize the disciplinary actions taken in handling these incidents. 

Second, the Editorial Board calls on the university to publicly acknowledge and defend Gorski who, despite now being released, was wrongfully charged and jailed after a violent incident with a Philadelphia Police Inspector. 

Finally, the Editorial Board demands the university reevaluates and reconsiders language in the Student Conduct Code to actively speak out against racism, racist speech and racist acts in the Temple community. This will allow the university to address and punish hateful speech, thereby demonstrating the university’s adherence to its own mission. 

We also encourage the university to consult with multicultural student groups and community members when amending its Student Conduct Code to ensure the changes more adequately service the needs of the Temple community. 

Pointing to language that ineffectively protects or safeguards members of the community as a defense for hateful speech is inexcusable. If the Student Conduct Code is failing to uphold and institute the university’s ethics and needs to be changed, then change it. 

Editor’s Note: Colin Evans, Digital Managing Editor, contributed reporting to the accompanying news story. He played no part in this editorial.

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