By Adam Sabes
Students at Duke University are criticizing a university official for affirming that the First Amendment protects hate speech following several racially-charged incidents.
According to The Duke Chronicle, Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Moneta posted a tweet encouraging those who believe that colleges and universities should “prohibit hate speech” to read a book called Free Speech on Campus by Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkeley law school, and Howard Gillman, chancellor and professor of law at UC-Irvine.
The tweet came one day after Moneta announced that a student who had posted “deeply offensive and racist terminology” on Facebook will not be disciplined.
“Though the language itself may not be in violation of any Duke policies on speech and expression, we nonetheless find its use to be deplorable,” Moneta explained, adding that “while there may not be formal student conduct consequences for his actions, we are aware of and acknowledge those students and student groups holding him accountable for his behaviors.”
According to the Chronicle, Moneta was referring to a snapchat posted by a student in the “Duke Memes for Gothicc Teens” Facebook group which displayed the word “n*****,” which came on the heels of another recent incident in which racial slurs were posted outside the door of a Duke apartment complex.
Despite calls for action, Moneta doesn’t plan to implement any major campus-wide initiatives relating to the series of racist incidents, saying he doesn’t believe the incidents are representative of the student body.
“I don’t have a plan for a major initiative,” Moneta told the Chronicle. “You want to be careful—you want to react appropriately and not just run around to do things that have no meaning. I think we need to just sit back and think about what is going on that a few people would feel like that was a good way to behave.”
Some students, however, were not satisfied with his response, and made their feelings known on Twitter.
“You’re literally trolling us,” student Mumbi Kanyog tweeted in response to Moneta. “2 incidents of RACIST HATE SPEECH in 2 days and you’re talking about oppressors being less protected that oppressed people?”
A PHD candidate at Duke, Anastasia Karklina, also expressed her discontent with the VP of Student Affairs, stating that she is withdrawing her application to work in his office because of his comments.
“When the n-word gets written on a student’s door at @DukeU in an act of racial violence & the VP for Student Affairs finds it appropriate to defend the ‘freedom’ to use hate speech,” said Karklina. “I’m withdrawing my application to work for your office. Students deserve better than this.”
Ari Cohn, director of the Individual Rights Defense Program for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told Campus Reform that Duke is doing the right thing by not pursuing disciplinary action against the student.
“While his expression may have been offensive to many, Duke has committed itself to First Amendment principles and the expression in question would undoubtedly be protected by the First Amendment,” said Cohn, who argued that all legal forms of speech should be protected, even if they are considered extremely offensive.
“The only way to ensure that the ideas we agree with are safe from official punishment is to extend that protection to all ideas, even the ones we find abhorrent. It’s also the only way to truly defeat bad ideas,” Cohn explained. “If they cannot be discussed and debated, we can’t truly hope to rid others of beliefs we find harmful.”
Campus Reform reached out to Duke University for comment, but did not receive a response.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @asabes10
First published at Campus Reform
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