By Horus Alas
Nearly a year ago, I wrote a piece for The Bloc that addressed some of the pros and cons of free speech in our society. It was largely framed in a progressive vs. conservative context, and I made the case that while racist or otherwise bigoted speech is protected in our society, its use debases the speaker and denigrates its targets.
That article was written before President Trump was sworn into office. It was also prior to the discovery of a noose in the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house at this university. Most tragically, it was before the murder of Lt. Richard Collins III, an African-American Bowie State University student, on this campus.
We needn’t do much research to find correlations between the new social climate under the Trump administration and an upswell in hate speech and crimes. It’s 2017. Adolf Hitler has been dead for over half a century, but Trump supporters marched on the streets of our cities brandishing Nazi regalia just three months ago.
College campuses in particular find themselves a contentious battle ground in deliberations on whether to allow or ban such intolerant speech.
Conservatives tend to regard campuses as indoctrination hives where students leave with overwhelmingly liberal views. Colleges, on the other hand, are often torn between allowing all students to express their ideas—even if these might be outright hateful—and protecting minority groups.
This university is no exception to these ideological skirmishes. Recently, posters claiming, “It’s okay to be white,” were discovered hanging at McKeldin Mall as well as in nearby Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Amid widespread student outcry, the University Senate began talks to institute a ban on hate speech throughout this campus. In response, Diane Kresja, Deputy General Counsel and Chief of Staff for this university, claimed that such a ban would infringe upon students’ First Amendment rights.
Kresja’s statement on the matter argued, “This is not a home. If people are paying money to come to college because they want a home—where people all think alike and have the same political views, and the same social views and views on sexual orientation and transgender and whatever religion or whatever it is—they should stay at home.”
Kresja’s comments caused further outrage among the student community.
Students from the activist group Protect UMD blasted University President Wallace Loh on twitter, claiming, “We think you all need to regroup, discuss and reevaluate who you allow to make your statements #UMDNotAHome.”
The Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society—PLUMAS, for short—likewise issued a tweet condemning the university administration’s position. “Telling us to ‘stay at home’ is a clear example of this university’s faux commitment to diversity and inclusion,” they said.
Junior hearing and speech sciences major Sydney Hancock issued an especially pithy response to Kresja’s remarks on twitter, claiming, “I don’t want people to all think alike, I just want people to not be fucking nazis thanks.”
By and large, student response at this campus is one of disgust and revulsion in the wake of the string of hate speech incidents we’ve seen since the inception of the Trump era.
Would it have been possible to imagine nooses and white supremacist propaganda on our campus during the Obama years?
Maybe, but not without some difficulty. One also imagines each of these incidents would have aroused much more scandal two years ago, when the President of the United States didn’t issue public statements expressing solidarity with white supremacists.
As has happened in the past and will continue to happen in the future, college campuses prove themselves to be a hot bed of ideas. When these contrast and clash with enough vigor, they give way to ideological battlefields.
The majority of students at this university feel that no student should be made to feel uncomfortable on campus due to the color of their skin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, etc.
A shadowy, nefarious minority, leveraged by the racial and cultural animus of the Trump administration, feels emboldened enough to use hate speech on campus as a means to intimidate our vast array of minority students. For now, they find their rhetoric sanctioned by the university administration.
Those of us who stand diametrically opposed to these vile acts of intimidation will have to fight this battle on our own. We will stand in solidarity with undocumented students, the LGBTQIA+ community, our Muslim and African-American peers, et al.
We will wage this war of ideas in the pages of our campus publications, in our classrooms, residence halls, libraries and study areas, etc.
We will win this war of ideas because, unlike our opponents, we are equipped with a firm conviction in the inherent and universal equality of all human beings. History, spirit and universal truth are on our side.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of teakwood’s Flickr account.
Horus Alas is a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.