By Dena Gershkovich
Over 150 students and faculty discussed issues surrounding free speech and minority safety on campus at a forum called Free Speech and Hate Speech, organized by members of this university’s Inclusion & Respect Task Force Monday night in McKeldin Library’s Special Events room.
Task Force Co-Chair and Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Warren Kelley moderated the event, which was scheduled to last from 5-6:30 p.m. but went overtime. He opened by saying that the purpose of the event was to “move forward” with understanding the legalities surrounding free speech and hate speech and to gather input from the campus community.
“The goal here really is to talk with you,” Kelley said to the crowded room. “There are lots of issues around us that create difficulties around our actions with each other.”
Though some members of the administration said they were satisfied with the way things progressed at the meeting, many in the audience said they felt the task force should be exhibiting greater transparency when publicizing events such as this one. Many also voiced how they wish specific steps would be taken to improve safety on campus for minority groups such as African Americans.
“I’m interested in what actionable things your working group is actually doing,” said Delisha Thompson, a student in the School of Public Policy who has been at this university for almost six years. Thompson said these issues are “nothing new” since her time at this university began and actions such as drawing swastikas in dorms and hanging nooses in dorms have become commonplace.
“I’m really sick of the administrative ‘Oh, we’re talking about it.’ What are you actually doing?” Thompson asked. “For the black students on this campus, and for the other people of color, and for anyone who affiliates with a minority group on campus, this is just much to-do about nothing.”
Thompson’s comments were met with applause.
In response to comments like Thompson’s, Kelley detailed the goals of the task force’s five committees, including those on free speech and university climate. According to Kelley, a climate study is going to be conducted at this university to assess how students feel about free speech and hate speech on campus.
“Nobody ever raises their hand. Nobody ever says ‘I did this.’ We’d love to catch people. Figuring out how to catch people is a question,” Kelley said.
Black students, such as sophomore government and politics major Maud Acheampong, said they feel unsafe on campus, especially since the murder of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III. Collins was a black Bowie State University student who was stabbed on campus last May by Sean Urbanski, a white UMD student, in what has been identified as a hate crime.
“I’m tired of feeling unsafe,” Acheampong said. “Even if we use our voice, our voice simply isn’t big enough.”
Ariel Guillory, a graduate student studying journalism, said she debated enrolling in this university because she too felt the campus was unsafe.
“The day that I got accepted, I read my acceptance letter and I didn’t feel excited. I felt scared,” Guillory said, despite being accepted into a school that’s “renowned for journalism.”
“After hearing about all the racial unrest… that kind of culminated with the death of lieutenant Richard Collins, to me it just seemed not worth it,” Guillory said. “I feel like there’s a microscope on me at all times because I’m a black woman.”
At a recent meeting, the University Senate said a campus wide ban of hate symbols would not be possible because it would infringe on First Amendment rights, according to the Diamondback.
Roger Worthington, this university’s chief diversity officer, said that although the administration condemns hate and violence “in the strongest possible terms,” this university is compelled by law to act in the way of the Supreme Court.
“We don’t have all the answers, and to say you need to provide us with answers is this adversarial approach to ‘us versus them’ that has been characterizing our campus for too long,” Worthington said.
He emphasized the need to work together to achieve common ground.
“Rather than point fingers at each other, let’s stand together and say, ‘Let’s do this together,’” Worthington said.
Also at the forum, Deputy General Counsel and Chief of Staff Diane Krejsa tearfully apologized for saying hate symbols cannot be banned on campus because this university “is not a home.” She apologized after a student read her comment aloud at the event.
“I am married to a Jewish individual, my daughter is a lesbian, my daughter-in-law is a minority from another country, and I believe I have been misrepresented,” Krejsa said. “What I want to tell you is that I do believe this is your home and this is every student’s home and they’re entitled to feel safe here.”
Krejsa added that she “support[s] the effort of all of you to get to that point” and agrees that what she said could have been said better.
Marketing and finance major Christina Moore said although attending the forum got her extra credit for one of her sociology classes, she chose to attend in order to learn more about the legalities regarding hate speech and free speech.
“In this day and age, especially with what’s going on in our political climate, it’s really important for people to just be educated even if they don’t want to partake in the conversation,” she said. “It’s just good to know about.”