LETTER TO THE EDITOR: No we don't need to get 'thicker skin'
Recently, there was an opinion column featured on Central Michigan Life about the recent events regarding hate speech on campus (“Free speech for all, even transphobes and racists." Feb. 22, 2019). The author misrepresents several points in his article. The first being his use of the Constitution as a defense for hate speech. Another is his ignorance on what governs the student body here at Central Michigan University.
The author uses the Constitution as a defense for hate speech. It is important to note that the Supreme Court has ruled that there can be narrowly tailored limits on speech that is regarded as hateful, pursuant to Beauharnais v. Illinois (1942). The 1st amendment is not unlimited. It doesn’t cover speech that is “…likely to inspire fear of bodily harm” (Virginia v. Black, 2003), defamation, obscenity, etc. The author uses the first amendment as an umbrella for people to say whatever they want without any repercussion. That is not accurate. What is more important is that the Constitution isn’t the only governing body for Central Michigan University students.
The Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Disciplinary Procedures is also a governing body. As much as this author loves to bring in the Constitution and Supreme Court cases, it is misleading to use that as the sole source of his argument. The code of conduct clearly states: “A student shall not bully, haze or harass any person or group of persons” (3.2.19). This is the actual governing body in this case.
His legal arguments aren’t the biggest problem with his column, however. In it, he stated, "Everyone should get thicker skin or don’t provide a whiteboard to write on.” Victims of hate speech don’t need to do anything. The insinuation that the victims are the people that need to change is not only offensive, it’s fostering an attitude that people can do and say whatever they want without any repercussion, which is just blatantly incorrect. The victims are just that: victims. They aren’t the ones who need to change. The ones who need to change are the people who committed these acts.
The author also wrote that CMU should “foster free speech and promote the exchange of ideas…” The author fails to take into account that these acts were not “promoting the exchange of ideas.” Nowhere in the comments “fuck u black monkey whores” or “Piece of shit Transie RA” does it promote the exchange of ideas. These are blatant attacks on people because of their gender identity and skin color. There is no way to exchange ideas with personal and violent attacks like this. The author either fails to take this into account or just ignores it.
This straight, white cis male is ignoring the privilege he has. This author has the privilege of having “thick skin”. Minorities, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community are beaten, killed and degraded every day because of their skin color, gender identity or sexual orientation.
As a gay woman, I can confidently say that having “thick skin” when I am attacked or harassed because of my sexual orientation isn’t a privilege I am afforded. The idea that victims of harassment should just “get thicker skin” or not provide a fun activity is not only ignorant, it’s harmful.
The author also made the assertion that the university protects “adversarial speech toward straight white men but not the same speech toward a pansexual black trans woman.” This speech toward straight, white men is taken differently because they have never been killed because of their skin color, gender identity or sexual orientation.
The day that white men are systematically harassed, murdered or abused is the day that we can have that conversation. The author also commented about how different it is to attack Nazis or racists. The author again fails to take into account the fact that nobody is born a Nazi. Nobody is born a racist. These are not only learned behaviors, but only exist for the sole purpose of hating, degrading and attacking a group of people. Minorities, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community are being hated not because of their ideas, but because of who they are.
This author did some research on Constitutional issues regarding free speech to support his opinion, but ignored actual Supreme Court precedent as well as what actually governs the student body.
The main takeaway that we need to understand is that victims of harassment don’t need to change. The people who committed these acts of hate do.