By Kashif Masood
Halloween has arrived. For some college students, this means dressing up in their best costume and going to a costume party. Unfortunately, a few ruin the fun by wearing costumes that reinforce negative stereotypes. On October 29 of last year, the Sigma Tau Gamma national headquarters suspended its University of Central Arkansas chapter and expelled a student after he wore blackface to the fraternity’s Halloween party. Policy 55 prohibits creating “a hostile or offensive environment” in order to curb such behavior. However, in doing so, it also strips students of their free speech.
Think about it: How do you decide what’s offensive? Some of my classmates would point to last year’s Hood College Republican display. To students who want to censor hate speech: Where do you draw the line? Policy 55’s Bullying and Harassment clauses prohibits conduct that creates “a hostile or offensive environment” without using an objective, “reasonable person” standard.
In 2007, at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, a student was accused of racial harassment after reading a historical book involving the KKK. The picture of the Klansmen and burning crosses on the book’s cover offended some of his coworkers. This shows that an otherwise innocent behavior could be punishable if someone finds an obscure aspect of it offensive.
It’s not only innocent behavior that suffers from politically correct campus speech codes. Civil discourse can also take a blow. In 2015 at Wesleyan University, outraged students began “recycling” their student newspaper. In addition, they wanted it to lose its funding until the demands were met. The newspaper’s crime? Allowing an Army veteran student to publish an opinion article criticizing Black Lives Matter’s approach to activism. Instead of a civil discourse approach, some Wesleyan students censored opinions they didn’t like by destroying newspapers.
The mission of Hood is to provide “an education that empowers students to use their hearts, minds and hands to meet personal, professional and global challenges and to lead purposeful lives of responsibility, leadership, service and civic engagement.” This cannot happen if students constantly fear punishment for expressing an otherwise mainstream view. If students aren’t willing to engage with speech they don’t like, how do you expect them to use their minds to meet challenges?
As a private institution, Hood College is not legally bound by the First Amendment. However, Policy 55 states that “Hood College is committed to the principles of free inquiry and free expression.” Hood is morally and contractually obligated to protect free speech.