The Student News Site of University of New Hampshire

The New Hampshire

The New Hampshire

The New Hampshire

Follow Us on Twitter

Yappin' Yourell: In the defense of free speech

After reading a New York Times article on the growing racial tension and doing some research, as well as seeing the Facebook reactions from UNH students and faculty to the column “Losing sight of what really matters” run in The New Hampshire last week, I’ve decided to write an opinion piece of my own. Disclaimer: I feel the need to clarify that this column that you’re now reading is my opinion—that’s why it’s on the opinion page, and any vitriol you feel after reading it should be directed at me, and not at The New Hampshire as a publication.
The piece I’m referencing from the Times ran on Nov. 8 under the headline “Yale’s Halloween Advice Stokes a Racially Charged Debate.” Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee (IAC) sent an e-mail in mid-October that asked students to show restraint when choosing Halloween costumes and to avoid costumes with “feathered headdresses, turbans, wearing ‘war paint’ or modifying skin tone or wearing blackface or redface.”
Erika Christakis, a Yale faculty member who also serves as an administrator in one of the residence halls, responded with an e-mail to her residents after she said she received complaints about the IAC email. In her lengthy email, Christakis basically says that people should dress however they want for Halloween. She says, “American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation, but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition.”
Students—especially students of color—did not take kindly to Christakis’ e-mail, and at least one public encounter has taken place so far between Yale students and Christakis’ husband, Nicholas, also a Yale faculty member.
In a series of four videos posted on YouTube, Nicholas can be seen engaging with angry students. At one point, Christakis says that he stands behind free speech, to which one of the students challenges him, “even when it’s offensive?”
“Even when it’s offensive,” he replies. “Especially if it’s offensive.”
From there, it goes south quickly for Christakis, with students demanding that he step down from his position because he stood behind his wife’s post, which the students found offensive, and because he didn’t create a “home” for his students.
This is the crux of my column—it’s time to clarify that I won’t be touching the hornets’ nest that is a 21-year-old white male talking about race and privilege. I also won’t be delving into controversial Halloween costumes.
I just want to talk about free speech and say that, in my opinion, Christakis is 100 percent correct that offensive language needs to be protected.
How tough is it to protect speech that isn’t offensive or obscene as opposed to protecting free speech that alienates? I’d contend that it’s about as tough as watching a marathon on TV instead of lacing up your shoes and hitting the asphalt.
Yale is a private institution, but it receives federal funding like almost every university in the States. That’s why laws like Title IX apply, and I’d contend that these institutions (ignoring the fact that their primary goal is to foster learning and understanding) have a duty to respect the First Amendment and the right to free speech. To fire the Christakises, and oust them from their home at Yale, would be a transgression by the university, one that effectively censures and punishes the couple for voicing an opinion at odds with students. It sets a glaring and dangerous precedent—speak out, get out.
Later in the YouTube video, Christakis asks the students who decides what is and isn’t offensive. Students replied, “when it hurts me,” and “when it offends me.”
“What if everybody say, ‘I’m hurt?’ Does that mean everyone else has to stop talking?” Christakis asks.
The reality is that no one person, or one group of people, gets to determine what is and isn’t acceptable speech. Hypothetically, if I were to run around the MUB screaming homophobic or racially insensitive comments, you’d hate me for it. But it’s my right to speak my mind, as much as you can call Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton every word that used to end with Mom and Dad putting soap in your mouth.
I’ve seen a number of angry Facebook posts responding to other TNH columns, referring to them as ‘articles’ and shaming our editorial staff for publishing them. Some posts have even implied that the editors should start picking and choosing which columns to run and which to avoid.
However offensive you may find “Rightly Wrong,” “From the Dingo,” “From the Right,” “From the Left” or any of the other columns you may read in these pages, ask yourself this: If we stop allowing these voices to be heard, are we truly a free press? The student voice? I say no.
Disagree with me if you want. Write a letter, and e-mail it to The New Hampshire. Instructions on how to get a letter published are printed at the bottom of the editorial page two times every week. It’s your right as a member of the UNH community to write what’s on your mind and have your opinion read by thousands.
Just understand that it’s my right as well.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The New Hampshire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *