What is more American than protecting the first Amendment? Whether it be free speech or hate speech, differing opinions will exist in the room. In educational settings, educators are preparing students for life where there are rooms filled with all forms of conflicting ideas and practices.
If we infer students potentially will be in these rooms then public spaces are in a crisis. Universities, schools of all levels, and others are confronting actions and rhetoric of hate. Should we even be surprised? Currently, the US political stage is littered with hate rhetoric. The verbal stench of ill-informed, racist and misogynist ideas and actions, as we have seen in mass-shootings, harm to immigrants, and the systematic killing of black people, is visibly activated. Case in point, the current President Donald Trump utters ignorant statements like “all immigrants are rapists” and has made some illogical connection that all immigrants are somehow part of MS 13. What do you think, are his statements freedom of speech or examples of hate speech?
Given the verbal executive office agenda, is it contentious to say hate speech is parading around as free speech. Either way, the energy of the educator, hopefully is harnessed for practices of value. Responding is where some of the power of practice lives.
Consider these three questions. If you find any value in making the campus, classroom, and library a place of respectful differing opinions, then let’s start here:
- What are the implications of ignoring a colleague’s or student’s thoughts, perhaps a view point, in an educational setting?
- Have you ever been in the classroom and a student expresses a viewpoint which is highly flammable to others in the room? What do you say or do?
- When you attend an event, perhaps a banned books week program or censorship discussion, has the speaker ever made commentary which boiled your blood?
Now, think of ways to proactively respond.
How educators respond is the bottom line. Simply, what can educators do before an escalation of events transpire and also foster a democratic classroom for the evolving idea-spheres of students. Educators should not need to fear for their lives or jobs when teaching, but yet we do. Similarly, students should feel safe to explore their ideas. Some organizations have created toolkits and resources for educators.
- Free Speech, Hate Speech, and Academic Freedom, University of Buffalo
- Free Speech on Campus, ACLU
- Freedom of Expression Toolkit: A Guide for Students , UNESCO
Still “most things are in the grey area,” as described from a Redland University forum in 2017. How does grey area help when in the moment? If all speech is free speech, faculty have a grey zone. In the 2012 report, Equal Education Opportunity and Free Speech on Public College and University Campuses in California, some of the free speech nuances of the CSU and UC systems in contrast to the California Community College are explained. Community Colleges are at more odds. With 72 unique college districts in California, decentralization of policies occur where each district has its own policies related to freedom of speech on campus. For community college faculty, the grey area is even more present in understanding the responsibilities and district practices. Similarly, California community colleges comprise the largest higher education system in the nation with a total reach of 2.9 million students at the time of this report, which means there are major differences of practice among this massive population.
With all the ambiguity, what are some things you can do to support your community?
- Documenting Hate, ProPublica
- Responding to Incidents of Hate Speech, University of Michigan
- Host programming, Banned Books Week or Discussions, ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom
If you are still feeling overwhelmed, try taking a moment to be self-reflective. I am struggling with this issue myself as an educator and librarian. Start with a CNN quiz, Is Hate Speech Free Speech, then consider what is important to you and teach from your passion.
Eva Rios-Alvarado is your glocal librarian. Her empowerment, spirituality, and beautiful-resistance stem from Xicana Feminist practice and philosophy. Currently, she leads projects in equity and outreach as Student Equity & Outreach Librarian at Mt. San Antonio College Library. With a B.A. in Geography and MS, in Library Information Science, she serves community college students exploring and crafting their information literacy repertoires. Eva’s leadership, through Banned Books Week, allows students and faculty to explore, participate, and interpret topics in intellectual freedom, freedom of speech, and censorship. Find her on Twitter @EvaRiosAlvarado. #XicanMLIS #LAallDay #librarianOfColor #locLA