GROUP THINK is The DP’s round table section, where we throw a question at the columnists and see what answers stick. Read your favorite columnist, or read them all.
This week's question: If the Penn administration deliberately tried to drown out homophobic protestors on College Green by sending a leaf blower to that location, is the school justified? If not, how should the administration have approached the situation?
James Lee | The Conversation
The legal and moral standards for acceptable reasons to suppress free speech are rightfully very high in the United States, and even more so for educational institutes like Penn that have an obligation to make sure voices of all different opinions are heard. Make no mistake: The messages of the protestors are hateful, illogical, incoherent and appalling. I personally have been impressed by and grateful for those individuals and organizations that rushed to defend the community we value and cherish. However, Penn as an institution cannot take direct measures to infringe upon the freedom of expression if it wishes to maintain legitimacy as a serious academic institution. As long as the “protest” remains peaceful, Penn ought to let the “protesters” holler their nonsense. As the saying goes, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Time to walk the walk.
Emily Hoeven | Growing Pains
I am going to keep my response short in order to allude to the amount of attention I think ought to be granted the homophobic protestors. It makes perfect sense why people would want to drown out their hateful, homophobic and generally offensive speech either by using leaf blowers or by staging counter protests. But I cannot help but feel that the best policy here is simply to ignore them. School officials should be on-hand to make sure that the protest does not get violent and to ensure that the free speech rights of both protestors and counter-protestors are protected. In other words, the leaf blower probably should not have been used. It would have packed more of a punch for everyone to continue calmly going about their day, not engaging with and refusing to be drawn in by the protestors, who are saying things with the sole intention of provoking someone to argue with them.
Shawn Srolovitz | Srol With It
Rather than focus on what the school may or may not have done, I think it’s important to applaud the students who time and time again have stood and faced these protesters to show support for their fellow Penn students. It is incredibly difficult to stand in the face of opposition like that, and I think it is a testament to the Penn community that students, faculty and employees of the University continue to fight back against the hateful speech that has unfortunately been present on our campus.
Taylor Becker | Right Angles
The University has many responsibilities. Among them is the duty to be the Academy, which necessitates that all viewpoints be heard. The University also has a duty to protect the health of its students. The despicable protestors in question have verbally assaulted Penn students to the extent that they have threatened or caused physical harm. This must not be allowed. However, the University must protect free speech, and should not have drowned out these speakers for voicing an unpopular opinion. It is a slippery slope which allows unpopular, even hateful, opinions to be banned, and this is why hate speech is constitutionally protected, except in certain select circumstances.
The University should not silence hateful protestors, but should empower students to counter these views with their own. The University could practically achieve this by providing resources for students, including megaphones and poster boards, to meet hate with love. While the difference between silencing and opposing is a slight distinction, it is an important one. It is crucial to the survival of the Academy as a marketplace of ideas.
Reid Jackson | Common Sense
Whenever we encounter the kind of horrifying hate that homophobic protestors occasionally infest our campus with, our natural inclination is, of course, to take them on or drown them out. After all, how could we possibly allow these abhorrent people to spread their vile lies at a place renowned for education, diversity, tolerance and truth?
But it’s not that simple.
The University sets a dangerous precedent if they can simply choose which protestors to drown out and which protesters to allow. It’s highly unlikely, for instance, that the administration would send in their FRES militia, armed with leaf blowers, to silence environmentalist or Planned Parenthood protesters. The University must allow any kind of protest, no matter how vomit-inducing it might be. They should also allow students to form counter-protests, to get in the faces of these soulless psychopaths and to fight them with words. The greatest weapon against them is not a leaf blower, it’s the combined might of the strongest and smartest students around: Quakers.
Amy Chan | Chances Are
I approved of what Penn had done. I was exceedingly happy and proud when I heard of what Penn had done. On whether or not Penn's response was justified, my answer becomes a little foggier. You could argue that Penn is impeding the preachers' constitutional right to free speech. However, the preachers are still able to stand there giving their message — we just don't have to hear it. Was it a little deceitful? Yes, it was. But I also think it's incredibly difficult to maneuver this type of situation without making some kind of wrong turn somewhere. Perhaps the safest thing Penn could have done was talk to the preachers directly, ask them to leave, but then that too would have been like asking them to give up a fundamental right, and it could have turned into a long and public dispute, which is exactly what the preachers would want. I think that Penn handled the situation with incredible tact, by allowing the preachers to continue their freedom of expression but not giving them the attention and space for hurtful words that they desired; compromising between the preachers' rights and the well-being of the students.
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