University must address hate speech at source

Leah Kashar

The days that one could avoid blatant anti-Semitism by staying off of online forums are long gone. Since 2008, there has been a marked increase in the number of anti-Semitic comments made on sites such as Yahoo! and Google. But since the most recent presidential election, the increase in anti-Semitic actions beyond the scope of the internet has skyrocketed. From Nov. 8 to Nov. 13, the five days since President Donald Trump was elected, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported over 200 instances of hate crimes. As our university begins to grapple with these issues, they need to ensure that their response to these instances not only placates people but invites response and change.

Just last week, flyers were distributed all over our campus promoting a racist and xenophobic agenda that made many students feel uncomfortable and unsafe. The University released a statement through a Tumblr page which clarified that, “We are a campus which welcomes and celebrates all dimensions of diversity … While we welcome the discussion of all ideas, they must be shared freely and fairly so that they can be properly debated as a campus community. The anonymous posters were inconsistent with our campus values and counterproductive to true campus dialogue.” 

Well, duh. The University gave members of the UT community the option to report hate speech or crimes, or even a biased incident, to the Campus Climate Response Team and provided links to various support centers on campus. While all of that is great and noble, it does not exactly aid in making the campus a more inclusive environment because the reports themselves do not eliminate the cause of the hate. This is an extremely complicated problem, nonetheless, but not an entirely unsolvable one. 

While “safe spaces” can be problematic and controversial, hate speech does not, should not and will never have a place on campus, and hopefully social media. Our campus is home to many diverse viewpoints and people, but if those viewpoints are harmful to any group, race, ethnicity, gender or religion, they do not belong here. No one should ever feel like an unwelcome guest in their own home.

With these flyers, UT was stuck between a rock and a hard place. It is very easy to offer a simplistic cure-all, but if the issue was that simple, it would have already been fixed. However, it is unclear how the CCRT deals with any reports, and furthermore, if they have the power to do anything besides take down the flyers. Taking them down gets rid of the blatant message and shows a lack of support, but the hate is still lying beneath the surface. The University should take actions to meet with a diverse group of students and discuss the hate they feel on campus and take steps in order to reduce not only the anxiety surrounding this hate, but the hate itself. 

In the future, the solution should be less “press release” and have an actual impact. Our campus should be more vocal on a specific level — student leaders, administrators and professors must be willing and able to combat this issue if necessary. Training people in positions of power on our campus should be required and offered to others who would like to attend. A campaign based on celebrating our differences, more inclusion programs and a required program for freshman (similar to the alcohol and consent training) on hate speech and inclusion could be possible solutions. 

It can be hard to teach a new viewpoint, but if the standard on campus is inclusion, it’s harder to be an outlier.

Kashar is a radio-television-film sophomore from Scarsdale, New York. Follow her on Twitter @LeahKashar.