Ltte: Civil discourse must be civil

Tori Hamilton

To the editor,

A few weeks ago we, as the Feminist Collective at CWRU, decided to clarify a common misconception on our campus that equates the struggles of marginalized groups to the social conflicts of being a conservative at Case Western Reserve University. Matthew Thompson wrote a letter in response, making defamatory claims that completely distorted the purpose of our letter and painted us as an oppressive force on our campus. This misrepresentation of our purpose is precisely the type of dialogue our initial letter discouraged and exemplifies our reasons for removing ourselves from toxic conversations. He misinterpreted our points, claiming we intend to silence all conservatives. However, neither his speech nor the speech of any conservative has never been hindered by us. He belittled and demeaned us as an organization, going as far as to quote the Constitution to a group of well-educated students.

First, we’d argue that freedom of speech is not unlimited. For example, a business cannot make things up about their product because it sounds good—that’s fraud. A person cannot speak out against military injustices in Iraq by releasing videos of soldiers—that’s treason, for which you can be sentenced to death. You can’t threaten to beat someone up—that is assault. Does language that actively threatens the existence or well being of individuals not fall under categories of assault? Why is some threatening language unacceptable, but the use of slurs and white supremacist language is just fine? Censoring free speech can be dangerous, seen in the past with the implementation of McCarthyism, and today with the imposition of the Global Gag Rule. However, there are dangers that come along with unchecked free speech. For example, hate speech and slurs threaten the safety of students of varying identities on our campus. It’s not just an attack on people, it encourages others to act on their beliefs physically, and in voting for policy; therefore, free speech should not be idealized as the end all be all. It is more complex and poses threats.

Additionally, beyond self-identification, one does not get to pick who is a conservative and cannot disown Donald Trump. He is in office today because the Republican National Committee and Republican party have paved the way for him, and because of larger failures of the Democratic party to effectively fight for working class individuals. But we must recognize the connections between the “moderate” conservatives and Trump: The former also pass legislation and say things that are just as dehumanizing and deadly. After all, it is beloved “moderate” John Kasich who has signed 17 out of the 18 abortion restrictions that have landed on his desk, who approved plans to defund Planned Parenthood, allowed comprehensive LGBT protection to lapse, and once said, “I will give you one bit of advice. Don’t go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol,” to women looking to prevent sexual violence. Thanks to Kasich, we now have nine instead of 16 abortion clinics, and LGBT Ohioans can “get married on Sunday and fired on Monday.”

To return to the original point we made in our previous letter, to set aside politics from personal relationships is a privilege that most people do not have because policies directly affect lives. We described diversity as something that is beyond one’s choice, demonstrating that definitions must be applied in the context of the situation. It is true that experiences with a variety of people can be enriching, but drawing comparisons between your major and your skin color is unfair and ignores the context and complexity of the situation. This is why a watered down definition of diversity that is inclusive of any and every difference is rather meaningless. In order to deal with conflicts on our campus and in our country, we need a specific definition to adequately address the deep-rooted problems.
Finally, we ask that any members of the CWRU community that are thinking about responding in a fury to take a minute to consider why they are so angered. Is it actually that we are challenging this uncritical fetishization of free speech? Or is it because we are brave enough to call out heteropatriarchal white supremacy when we see it? We refuse to play nice to people that clearly have not listened to what we were saying and will continue to not listen. We firmly believe every person has a responsibility to be respectful of the humanity of others—and when that doesn’t happen, we will act however we see fit.