Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Hate Speech: Implications for Administrators

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Hate Speech: Implications for Administrators

Article excerpt


Both educators and students alike expect colleges and universities to be realms for freedoms of expression in the pursuit of knowledge. However, increasingly during the past several decades those freedoms of expression have created both tensions and legal disputes regarding when those freedoms of speech are perceived to be hate speech. Suggestions and implications for academic administrators are offered in an attempt to aid in allowing those within academic environments to express different views, while cultivating a climate that is both enriching to and supportive of students.

"Campus hate speech policies represent only two percent of the solution. The other ninety-eight percent should include education about diversity and setting and articulating values"--Mary Rouse, 1991


Hate speech is a volatile issue that is markedly influenced by legal precedent and issues of protection under the First Amendment (Downey & Jennings, 1993). Defined as "words that are used as weapons to ambush, terrorize, wound, humiliate, and degrade" (Cowan, Resendez, Marshall, & Quist, 2002, p. 248), hate speech has become an interesting topic and a major issue on college campuses that has emerged in the past fifteen years. Hate speech dilemmas are not just isolated to college campuses, as society in general has been trying to confront and resolve related problems with little success. It does not help that there is no uniform code pertaining to hate speech; each state can include or exclude different areas or content that it deems appropriate. Many states include some provision that specifies race, ethnicity and religion as protected classification. However several states do not (i.e. Texas and South Carolina) (Boeckmann & Turpin-Petrosino, 2002). Hate speech is a multi-faceted form of speech, one which includes, but is not limited to flyers, written messages on chalkboard, t-shirt messages, and computer screen savers. Kaplan (1992) adds that hate speech takes other forms: Face-to-face confrontations, shouting from a crowd, leaflets, phone calls, or jokes broadcasted on campus radio stations, or via symbols such as swastikas.

Colleges across the nation are assumed and understood to be havens for freedom of inquiries. There frequently appears to be a 'give and take' tension between freedom of speech and the possible harm of allowing hate speech to exist (Cowan & Khatchardourian, 2003). Students come to college with expectations that they should have the freedom to pursue an education without being harassed or distracted by humiliating comments related to their ancestry, physical attributes, or personal or sexual preferences. Higher educational institutions are also considered arenas in which people can express their views and opinions. Furthermore, the educational environment involves academic freedom for students and faculty. Of utmost importance, a democracy depends on the discovery of the truth and freedom of speech. Free speech allows academic environments to express different views and attempt to establish knowledge.

Universities and colleges across the country have become highly sensitive to racial, gender, and related issues and formulated policies in attempts to respond to those issues (Heiser & Rossow, 1993). Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, administrations at institutions of higher education enacted 'hate speech codes' to selective words and actions that would be considered hate speech, and applied punishments for violating those codes. The idea was to try to stop the flow of what was considered to be a stream of racist incidents on college campuses (McMurtrie, 2003). In response to this rise of hate speech incidents on college campuses many institutions have instituted new regulations banning expressions of racist sentiment. Many institutions have only regulated things that are judicially approved, such as fighting words. However, some institutions have tried to regulate any type of speech that might offend any particular group or sub-group (Heiser & Rossow, 1993). …

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