Schools Should Enforce Hate Speech Regulations: A Response to “The Danger in Censorship”

Stephanie Czmar  ’19 , Managing Editor

As someone with interest in journalism, I take freedom of speech very seriously. With this being said I understand the argument made in last week’s opinion piece, “The Danger in Censorship,” however I think that the argument went astray and is missing some finer points. This can particularly be seen through the word choice of the piece and choice of a supporting example. 

I would first like to point out that I think it is not a “flaw,” but an asset that our generation is “obsess[ed] with terms ranging from ‘hate speech’ to ‘cultural appropriation.’” It indicates progress and growing acknowledgement of other people’s experiences and the forms of oppression they face. 

To describe it as a “flaw” is to suggest that somehow this will bring the down fall of our generation, which the writer of “The Danger of Censorship” seems to believe. This can be seen through his indication that he believes our generation’s “obsession” to be “dangerously naïve.” 

I think that to assume people wishing for legal punishment against hate speech to be naïve is a bold claim. The term “naïve” suggests that people legally looking to punish hate speech believe that it can be wiped out or that if punishment for hate speech is implemented it will make students think it does not happen in the world at large, which is simply not true. 

While there are a few examples I don’t love in this article, there is one that particularly confuses me. I think it was a mistake to place the example of a Halloween costume with blackface in conjunction with examples grounded in the larger political settings. 

Racist Halloween costumes have come to be a derogatory act associated  specifically with college life (please refer to the Halloween controversy at Dickinson from last year and “Dear White People” on Netflix, if you don’t get how) and placing it in the same category as other forms of discrimination in America blurs the line between punishment for hate speech in an educational institution and the punishment of hate speech in the general public which is found throughout “The Danger in Censorship.” 

By placing these examples together without making them distinct suggests that issues of hate speech on campus and hate speech in broader America should be treated the same, which I disagree with. 

I think that while we cannot legally punish people in the general public for hate speech because it technically (and sadly) goes against freedom of speech, people should be punished for it in educational institutions. 

If a college holds themselves up on pillars of tolerance and diversity, then the institution should have a clear definition of hate speech and a policy concerning it; students should expect punishment if they are in violation of it. Any place of education (elementary school, middle school, high school, college), should hold its students to standards which allow for the creation of a community. Places of education should be safe places. 

This cannot be accomplished if students are being verbally attacked based on their race, gender, religion, sexuality and/or political belief. I also think that hate speech regulations in schools starting at a young age will help to start give children a sense that derogatory language which they might hear at home is actually socially unacceptable. 

Then perhaps we will not have to “logically debate” racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination and be able to actually debate things that should be moral common sense. I think this too would allow students the potential to be tolerant educated citizens and voters, who would not have to worry themselves with “imagin[ing] Klansmen or Stalinists in Washington.”