To the editor,
In response to the article “What we lack,” by Andrew Breland and Jacob Martin in the Opinion section last week, we would like to identify that some of their examples of “free speech” are not in fact free speech; instead, they are examples of harassment. We fully support and agree with the idea that free speech and the freedom to express opinions is necessary, especially on college campuses. However, their attempt at creating a controversial rationalization of their definition of “free speech” by using examples of racial harassment is inaccurate.
In the article, the authors used some examples that are not speech, but instances of active racism, such as racist chanting. They deemed university administrations’ punishment of students involved in these cases as “harsh,” claiming that freedom of expression was limited at a level akin to fascism. However, the authors ignored the recent racist acts that have occurred right here on Case Western Reserve University’s campus. We are referring to the racist graffiti in a bathroom stall in Fribley Commons and racist comments on a comment card submitted to the dining hall.
In an article in The Observer about this incident, A’ja Hairston, an employee of Bon Appétit, was quoted, “Honestly it scared me. People have committed crazy crimes in college, and I’ve been hearing about the racist things some students on this campus have been saying. I just want to make sure we’re all going to be safe for the rest of the semester.” To us, these actions should not be condoned in the spirit of openness that Breland and Martin want to see at universities, especially when it is not just words, but actions that can be harmful to one’s security.
In the CWRU Student Handbook under “University Policies”, the code of conduct surrounding harassment is stated as: “Members of the University community are expected to respect the rights of others by refraining from any inappropriate behaviors that may negatively impact a student’s experience. Harassment may include a single or repeated act but is not limited to the following:
1. Conduct which intimidates, threatens or endangers the health or safety of any person,
2. Behavior that intentionally or negligently causes physical, financial or emotional harm to any person,
3. Behavior that is construed as a nuisance including but not limited to prank phone calls, or abusing, or harassing another user through electronic means.”
Clearly, the events that have occurred at CWRU and other schools mentioned in Breland and Martin’s article exemplify this definition of harassment.
We understand that freedom of expression is crucial, and in no way are we arguing that this should be limited, especially in academic settings. Yet, while these actions may be interpreted as free speech outside of the university, they are undoubtedly harassment within the realm of our campus and many others. Accredited colleges are held to a different standard than simply what the law permits. These threatening behaviors go beyond the verbalization of political or religious views. Establishing an environment where it is safe to express one’s opinions is key in maximizing freedom of speech. Acts of racism do nothing to create an open dialogue.
Abby Assmus and Anna Galipo