The first Ohio University Campus Conversation of the 2016-17 academic year Tuesday addressed the debate between freedom of speech and hate speech.
The Campus Conversation’s topic was a response to the racially-charged drawings and words on the graffiti wall behind Bentley Hall on Sept. 20.
Five panelists — three faculty members and two students — discussed their beliefs about finding the balance between freedom of speech and managing hate speech.
Panelist Tom Costello, a communications professor, said the graffiti wall may have a negative impact on the way OU is viewed among minorities.
“A parent somewhere is thinking about sending their black son to Ohio University,” Costello said. “What are they going to think when they see this news?”
Panelist Marcus Cole, a senior studying psychology, said there are psychological effects on students who are the subject of hate speech. The graffiti wall, Cole said, made some students feel unsafe, which can affect their psyche long-term.
“We know for a psychological fact, race plays a factor in self-worth,” Cole said. “If I know I am going to be treated differently because of the color of my skin, it is psychologically proven I will do worse.”
Costello called on faculty members to provide a safe space for student discussion in classrooms.
“How do we obliterate what separates us?” Costello said. “How do we stop forgetting we all belong to each other? We have a perfect opportunity to do this … We have a classroom. We should talk about this in the classroom.”
Panelist Dave Parkhill, president of the OU College Republicans, said all speech is constitutional and should not be filtrated by the university.
“We can all agree that hateful rhetoric has no place on this campus,” Parkhill, a junior studying business management, said. “But who is to say what is hateful rhetoric? We cannot allow the government and we cannot allow our institutions to start regulating our speech. Once it starts, where does it stop?”
Following the panelists’ comments, more than 150 people broke into small discussion groups. Each table had a different topic to discuss, ranging from “Community Action and Individual Action” to “Diversity Curriculum.”
The goal of those conversations was to provide students and faculty a safe space to discuss their opinions, Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones, said.
She said the topic was determined in advance, but the title of it was changed to appeal to more people in light of recent events. That effort was successful; Hall-Jones said that was one of the most well-attended Campus Conversations.
“Looking forward to the elections, we were going to have a free speech and civility conversation anyway,” Hall-Jones said. “After the graffiti wall controversy two weeks ago, we changed the title because we thought people would be more interested in coming.”
Tiffany Anderson, a sophomore studying computer engineering, said she was glad she had a space to discuss the topic with people of various viewpoints.
“It is a very complicated topic,” Anderson said. “When it comes to dealing with hate speech, it’s not as clear-cut as many people want to think it is. We do need to have conversations like this to talk about where the lines should be.”