How does hate speech intersect with freedom of speech?
More than 50 members of the Franklin & Marshall community gathered virtually on Sept. 29 to discuss the history and consequences of free speech. The event, titled “Freedom of Speech ≠ Freedom to Hate,” served as a continuation of the F&M Diplomatic Congress’ Diplomatic Discourse series.
“It has become common for many people today, including prominent political figures, to cite free speech as justification for hate speech and other repressive ideologies,” said senior Ayana Stuart ‘21.
A panel of four faculty and professional staff members discussed the history of hate speech, the intersection of safe spaces and freedom of expression, and whether ignorance or intent are factors that legally excuse acts of bias or hate.
Panelists (shown below) included Gretchel Hathaway, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, Alison Kibler, professor of American studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, Joseph Pritchett, director for faith and meaning, and Colette Shaw, dean of students. Stuart and junior Amanda Leonard acted as moderators.
To kick off the event, panelists were asked: Should hate speech be protected as an expression of free speech? What is the relationship between the First Amendment and hate speech and racist, repressive movements?
“The First Amendment had, until recently, really been in the hands of people who were proponents of artistic freedom, sexual freedom, reproductive rights, [and] civil rights,” Kibler said.
“The idea that free speech has been weaponized to protect harmful speech or speech that harms vulnerable communities – that is true. But I would argue that we shouldn't throw out free speech,” she added.
Kibler noted that the civil rights movement in the United States was built on the protections of the First Amendment.
Panelists spent a significant amount of time discussing the College code of conduct and how incidents of racism and hate speech could be better addressed.
“The education can’t just be to the person who might have done it. It should be an educational moment for the community,“ Hathaway said.
Shaw advocated for a movement away from criminal justice-based disciplinary systems.
“There’s actually a system [that’s] not just restorative; it’s called transformative justice, where communities fix problems and hold people accountable in completely different ways than having authority figures do it,” she said.
“If we could move toward a community based model versus a punitive model, I think that would be beautiful,” Pritchett said. “I also recognize we don’t want to put the onus or impetus on the person who was harmed to have to fix it, either,” he added.
To close the evening event, attendees participated in private breakout rooms to candidly share how F&M can designate classrooms and campus buildings as safe or brave spaces while maintaining the expression of free speech.
Panelists and students alike shared that the College has made strides, but has hard work to do.
“What you’re talking about is happening across college campuses,” Hathaway said. “We’re no different than others, and yet we should be doing better.”