A member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board weighed in Thursday on the recent dispute over the graffiti wall located on the corner of West Mulberry Street and Richland Avenue, arguing that it was necessary to protect such acts of free speech.
Kimberley Strassel, a self-proclaimed “First Amendment absolutist" and author of The Intimidation Game, told students, faculty and community members that college campuses should be places where debates can thrive — even if those debates got ugly. The event at Galbreath Chapel was this semester's second lecture in the George Washington Forum series.
The graffiti wall drew criticism after an image of a hanged figure, the phrase “build the wall” and the URL “iraqbodycount.org/database” were painted on it Tuesday.
“What’s up on that wall is horrible, terrible, it shouldn’t be up there,” Strassel said. “But it’s allowed under the First Amendment.”
The Constitution does not ban hate speech, thus, there is only so much that can be done to combat it, Strassel said.
“We have to think of other ways to get people to … not be hateful,” Strassel said. “It’s a world that we will never live in, but we can work hard to try and get most people to not.”
Strassel said though the image depicted on the graffiti wall was a “horrible slur,” she is not a proponent of “safe spaces” on college campuses.
“Campuses have always been our places of debate and higher learning, where we get our best ideas, and that notion that this is happening is terrifying to me, especially because you don’t get to pick and choose,” Strassel explained. “Some people’s speech is not more valued.”
Strassel said she wishes the government could withhold money from universities if there were speech codes in place there.
“You don’t have a safe space for the First Amendment,” she said.
The authors of the Constitution intended to set ‘faction against faction’ when drafting the First Amendment, Strassel said.
“That’s why the founders didn’t place restrictions on (speech), they didn’t say ‘Well, you can only say nice stuff,' because who defines what’s nice?" Strassel said. “They wanted there to be debate, and sometimes ugly debate.”
Strassel said civil liberties should not be abridged by safe spaces.
“(The First Amendment) doesn’t make a judgment about them not being nice or objectionable,” she said. “That’s why we don’t have categories of speech, because who gets to decide? And so all speech is allowed, even the stuff that makes us uncomfortable.”
It is important to talk about speech through the lens of the First Amendment on college campuses, Strassel said.
“I don’t think it can be said enough — the First Amendment Is your basic guard of freedom and democracy,” she said.