This may be the ‘land of the free,’ but it is no stranger to hate.
by Zainub Tayeb
Ever since Donald Trump first hit the campaign trail, many administrators, faculty, staff, and students have questioned the line between free speech and hate speech. To clarify, unless the speech incites violence upon specific individuals or calls for the overthrow of the government, it is constitutionally protected—technically, hate speech is constitutionally protected. Yes, hate crimes are illegal, but hate speech is not recognized as a hate crime.
We, as citizens of the United States, are allowed to take to the streets and yell that we do not support a racist, sexist, xenophobic president, and we are even allowed to symbolically burn the American flag if we feel like the United States Government is not representing the ideals it was founded on. While the first amendment gives us the absolute right to do these things, it also gives others the right to do similar (or opposite) things in support of their views—meaning that anyone can march up and down the street with swastikas (or white hoods) and shout racial slurs. Yes, freedom of speech does allow bigots a platform to spread bigoted ideas, but it also allows people to spread the counter-narrative. That’s what the First Amendment is protecting when it allows the aforementioned symbolic expressions or speech. If there is a limitation on hate speech it also weakens the rest of the citizenry’s freedom to free speech (ACLU).
While anyone has the right to paste swastikas and confederate flags on their homes, cars, and social media, it is still illegal for anyone to paste them on government owned property or private property (that is not their own). In a similar vein, people who disagree with you cannot come onto your property and tear things down.
Folsom Lake College and the Los Rios Community College District protects everyone’s right to freedom of speech. This community college, like all other public colleges and universities, is a public space for anyone to express their opinion. So, to those who were questioning the presence of the Pro-Life group on campus last semester, they do have the right to be on campus, even though they do not represent the college’s views at all (nor do any opposing groups). The district has a policy that reaffirms the rights of any group to be present on campus as long as the group does not disrupt college operations (mainly its role as an educational institution). The Los Rios Board of Trustees even encourages the discussion of controversial ideas in an academic setting: “The Board desires to foster in students a respect for differing points of view, supports the faculty's freedom to present controversial issues in the classroom, and declares its intention to defend this freedom against attacks by those who may be alarmed by free discussion” (Policy – 1000 Community).
The Los Rios Board of Trustees and all the colleges in the district are committed first and foremost to the safety of their students, staff, and faculty, but realize that having controversial groups on campus can be good learning opportunities for students. In response to distasteful speech, the Board of Trustees for the Los Rios Community College encourages students to use critical thinking skills to differentiate between personal opinions and facts, to be open to different points of views, and to combat hate speech with educated speech (Los Rios resource on free speech).
Despite this, it is important to recognize that the Los Rios District is an equal educational opportunity institution. The Board states that it:
implement[s] policies to guarantee that no qualified student or prospective student or any person having an educational relationship with the District shall be unlawfully discriminated against, harassed, or excluded from any benefits, activities, or programs on the grounds of ethnic group identification, race, color, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy or childbirth-related condition, sexual orientation, sexual identity, religion or religious creed, age, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability, medical condition, political affiliation or belief, military and veteran status, or marital status, nor shall any students be discriminated against for conversing in a language other than English (Policy – 2000 Students).
The bottom line is, yes, we all have the right to express our views on campus, whatever they may be, but this is an educational institution—let’s be respectful of that and keep engagements respectable and intellectual.
Unfortunately, the tenuous political climate causes many to overstep freedom of speech/expression, leading to a rise in hate crimes since Trump’s election. The Southern Poverty Law Center “documented 867 bias-related incidents,” many of the targets being Muslim or immigrants, all in just the ten days after Trump’s inauguration (SPLC). The Southern Poverty Law Center also found that schools have been negatively impacted by the election, reporting an increased “use of slurs, derogatory language and extremist symbols in their classrooms” (SPLC). This may be the “Land of the Free” but it is no stranger to hate. If you’re feeling harassed on campus, contact our campus equity officer (Molly Senecal) right away. There are many allies on campus, including students, staff, faculty and administration who are committed to equity, diversity and social justice. If you're looking for a larger sense of community, consider attending some of our social justice events or join an intersectional club such as the Feminist Alliance Club (email@example.com) or the Empowerment Community on campus (WilliaA@flc.losrios.edu).
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