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Free vs. hate speech:
a dilemma yet to be resolved
April 13, 1998

Free speech, hate speech, and the first amendment were the focus of a panel discussion hosted by the Institute for African-American Studies April 6.

"Receptivity to diversity and sensitivity to things that will inhibit learning are symbolic of colleges and universities," said Milton Heumann, professor and chair of political science at Rutgers University and coeditor of Hate Speech on Campus, published in 1997 by Northeastern University Press.

But there are no good research studies that show if the codes of speech written to preserve these symbols are actually applied in real situations or if the keepers of civil liberties are actually enforcing them, he added.

Ronald Taylor, professor of sociology and director of the Institute for African-American Studies, said that protecting free speech on campus while combating hate speech is a dilemma faced by universities and colleges.

"Hate speech can interfere with students' ability to study, undermine their self-respect, promote anger and helplessness and often result in complete withdrawal from campus activities." Under such circumstances, free speech as endorsed by the first amendment contradicts and violates the equal treatment of all citizens advocated by the 14th amendment, he said.

Sharon Kipetz, dean of students, said that UConn's student conduct code lays out very clearly the community standards of behavior expected on campus to enhance and protect educational processes and promote personal development.

"The educational process at UConn starts with student orientation, when the issues of civility, conduct, and the penalties for misconduct are talked about," she said. "Discussions, dialogues and conversations are the best way to promote awareness and civility."

Robin Barnes, professor of law, also recommended discussion and public dialogue as forms of "more speech," to solve problems in interacting with others, such as those exhibited in hate speech: the absence of civility, lack of respect and unwillingness to talk with anyone who has a different point of view.

David Winer, dean of Trinity College, reviewed some situations of discrimination and approaches adopted by private institutions in dealing with discriminatory behavior on campus.

"The moral obligations and the dilemma faced by private institutions in striking a balance between the first and the fourteenth amendments are just as great as at the public institutions," he said.

At Trinity College, racial harassment and sexual harassment policies are combined to form a broader discriminatory harassment policy, that includes discrimination due to race, color, ethnic or national origin.

Usha R. Palaniswami