What's the big deal with bigotry on college campuses?

12:44 PM College Lawyer Blog 0 Comments

Thursday, 2/11/16
Academic institutions across the country have found themselves grappling with the issue of free speech. From the Yale fraternity chant, to the poop swastika at Missouri, to the recent mob assault at SUNY Albany, the list of hate crimes on college campuses is becoming perpetually larger. 

Of course, the hate crimes above received national attention due to their severity and complete disrespect for university policy.  Meanwhile, there are other events being dubbed as hate crimes and it is causing much controversy.  However, the controversy is not within the crime, but whether they should actually be considered hate crimes or not. 

Take into consideration an event at the University of Maryland in which a student's private e-mail surfaced. The e-mail, which was sent to six close friends, contained racial epithets and sexual references, including, "f*** consent."  The e-mail was dubbed a hate crime; not only was it racist, but sexist too.  The student who sent the email apologized and did not return to school for the rest of the semester.  Nevertheless, the president of the University of Maryland, Wallace D. Loh and university officials stated that the e-mail, "while hateful and reprehensible, did not violate university policies and is protected by the First Amendment."  

Another incident at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign comes to mind. Steve Salaita was offered a job as a professor only to have it taken away over comments he made on Twitter about Israel. Critics were upset of the tone he used in the comments, not over the actual content.  He lost this opportunity as a result of voicing his opinion.  How is one to even decipher tone over social media?

The question arises, are we, as a society, overreacting to some of these situations?  Having a conflicting opinion is dangerous these days.  It seems as though every opposing view point is riddled off as offensive or demeaning, especially in university settings.  As Nick Anderson of the Washington Post puts it, "colleges have become too politically correct, obsessed with preventing 'micro-aggressions...'" 

Universities should only take action against those who act out of pure hate.  Every controversial idea or viewpoint will receive criticism and, as critics, it is important to ensure that that criticism is not blown out of proportion.  Rather, all opposing view points should be dealt with the respect that they are owed. There is no reason to take action against the public display of an opinion just because someone finds it difficult to swallow. Campuses should come down hard on those who carelessly act on behalf of their bigotry. At the same time, they must keep in mind that a leaked e-mail to close friends is nowhere as severe as painting a swastika with feces.

Unfortunately, when the spotlight shines upon a public institution, they tend to favor the opinion of the majority.  Everyone wants to stick their toes out but no one wants to get stepped on.  Then, when someone is inevitably stepped on, they are given what they want to stop the crying.  If they do not get what they want, the university is suddenly just as intolerable initial controversy.  In doing so they reinforce the idea that if someone is discontent and they throw a large enough fit, they will get what they want.  

The severity of situations must be accurately assessed and dealt with accordingly.  Universities must make it clear that they not only stand against bigotry but that they stand against pressure from the public eye as well.
The beauty of the American educational system exists in its ability to produce free thinkers.  When that beauty is taken away, what are we?

Seth Canner
Assistant Editor-In-Chief  
Levitt Law Firm, Law Clerk 


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