Dane Parkhurst – ICC Harbinger
East Peoria, IL – Many Illinois Central College students and staff coalesced to discuss free speech, hate speech, and the lines between the two on Thursday.
Amongst the panelists were Rick Joseph and Scott Paulsen, who spoke on the First Amendment and legalities of hate speech. Joseph, an ICC Attorney, started the panel by making it clear that all speech is protected under the First Amendment. He went on to say that there is one exception to this rule, according to the US Supreme Court, “fighting words.”
Paulsen, a Business Law Professor at ICC, explained that there is no clear definition to what “fighting words” are. He cited some popular Supreme Court Cases on this and showed that this subject matter could go either way.
On a college campus, students are faced with sensitive subject matter everyday. The way these conversations in the classroom are handled could be the difference between a progressive conversation and one that could end up in a fight between students.
Dr. Anthony White, a Criminal Justice Professor, talked about hate speech in the classroom and how the teachers are the example for the rest of the class. Especially in classes that deal with sensitive social situations.
“Teachers shape minds; we set the stage,” said Dr. White.
Amongst attendees was Bryan Asbury, a communications professor for ICC and a former ICC student. Asbury was a victim of hate speech as a student because of his sexual orientation. He now teaches students to overcome these sensitive conversations. He uses a specific exercise at the beginning of every semester to make his students more mindful of their language.
“I have my students write down the most offensive word that they could think of to call another human being. Then we explore the denotative and connotative definitions of those words, and what reality must be true in order for the word to move from one to the other. Then, what world gets created when we use those words,” said Asbury.
This exercise not only makes students more aware of what they say, but how they say it.
“I’m not here to police your language, I’m here to say that you are responsible for your language. You can use whatever words you want, but you didn’t invent them and you are accountable to their history,” Asbury said.
The Vice President of Diversity and Community Impact, Dr. Rita Ali, also spoke about student conduct and the fine line between free speech and hate speech. Her office works not only with student to student conflict, but also faculty to student conflict. Dr. Ali focuses on encouraging diversity and teaching tolerance to hate speech.
“The best way to teach tolerance is through dialogue. Where people can speak their minds, talk about their backgrounds, their beliefs and why they believe. Then we can begin to understand prejudice and where it came from and how to deal with it,” said Dr. Ali.
The panel concluded with an opportunity for students and faculty to ask the panelists questions on hate speech. Multiple faculty members shared stories of student conflict and the panelists provided ways to go about dealing with those situations.
If students do experience hate speech they can contact Dr. Ali’s office or the Dean of Students, Emily Points.