UC Student Government (SG) officials faced a sizeable gallery during this Wednesday’s senate meeting, where some students voiced concerns regarding SG’s discussions about hate speech on campus cited in a TNR article last week.
SG Speaker Tim Kemper opened the floor to gallery members, each of whom were given up to two minutes to address comments to senate members.
“It was very concerning to me as a student that free speech was being considered as an issue,” said fourth-year senior Mike Arnold, a construction management major and 2016 contender for Student Body President. “All speech on campus is protected, including hate speech.”
Third-year chemistry student Gerritzen Meyer referenced the recent Charlottesville, Virginia violence — a prominent example of the rise of alt-right groups.
“People love an underdog, and they will go to it… any time you attempt to smack down a group like that, they grow,” Meyer said. “If there’s speech that you disagree with, the best way to combat that is with more speech. If somebody’s speech is either antithetical to logic or to common decency, more speech will show the error of that.”
Drake Lundstrom, a fifth-year chemistry student, quoted UC’s Student Code of Conduct, saying universities are a place where students can “discuss and try to destroy bad ideas.”
“Some ideas deserve to be combated,” Lundstrom said. “[But] if we’re saying that students should have their free speech restricted, where does it stop?”
At-Large Senator Emily Demjanenko later opened the floor for further discussion on the issue, stressing that SG’s role was to inform and educate students, rather than restrict First Amendment rights.
“When we talked last week, [SG] definitely focused more on how there is no right way to react, and everyone … has what they think is the right way to react,” Demjanenko said. “If you are engaging in conversation with someone who’s protesting on campus … you’re not going to get in trouble for that. But if you have some form of physical altercation, that’s when a different issue comes.”
Undergraduate Trustee Alberto Jones clarified suggestions he made during the last meeting about implementing a program or discussion panel to influence students’ responses to hate speech long-term.
“We’re [not] trying to influence what they do, but … as student leaders, we have to influence students in the most positive way, and we have to make sure it doesn’t cause further disruption,” Jones said, stressing the importance of providing students with educational resources. “At the end of the day, our goal is to make sure that no further disruption is caused with students responding in a negative way.”
“We’re creating an educational program basically telling people that you can’t hit people,” Arnold said of the suggestion. “Really? Is that what student government is going to create? An educational program that tells people that you can’t physically assault people on campus?”
Student Body Vice President Dana Drage said that such a program would focus on providing resources to students who may not otherwise have access to them.
“With all due respect, I do think that event is going to be more than ‘Hey, don’t hit,’” Drage said, calling effective distribution of educational resources “part of [SG’s] duty as representatives of the undergraduate student population.”
“It still opens the door that you’re still influencing students on how they should react to speech,” Arnold said, arguing that the university already provides resources for students when hate groups arrive on campus. “Student government does not need to get involved in this at all. Just leave it alone.”
CECH Tribunal Senator Chris Stone said SG’s goal was to inform the undergraduate body of responses that respect both the rights of protestors and students’ own rights to free speech.
“Sometimes the best way to combat hate speech is with rational speech,” said Stone.
Student Body President Bashir Emlemdi acknowledged the importance of First Amendment rights, saying SG’s discussions focus on mitigating the disruption of education.
“Everyone has [the] right to speak, and SG is not here to regulate [that] by any means,” Emlemdi said, assuring gallery members that free speech discussions would continue amongst student government elected officials. “It’s our job to do whatever we can in that sense of educating and informing.”
As the debate closed, Meyer commended SG and the University of Cincinnati for their prospective handling of free speech concerns. Additionally, Meyer stressed the importance of educating students that unpopular speech and violence are mutually exclusive.
“Too many times, we see students show up on campus and they’re still in this kindergarten mentality that someone doesn’t have the right to be mean to us,” Meyer said. “I don’t want anyone to think that our defense of others’ freedom of speech is necessarily condoning the message that they are promoting. I do think that it’s important that we preserve freedom of speech, even for speech that we despise, because there may come a point in time where our speech is despised.”
Other items addressed during Wednesday’s senate meeting include two executive nominations. Destiny Bomar and Sylvana Ross were both approved as a slate for two positions — Bomar for the Legislative Directors of Equity, and Ross for Inclusion and Campus Life.
SG’s legislative body approved appropriations bill S.18-A-010, presented by Drage, in a 27-0-1 vote. The proposal requested $429 in funding for 500 mirror clings to promote UC’s new website — a Student Affairs initiative which provides resources and education for gender-based violence prevention.
Drage also shared a demographics report of 124 SG survey respondents compiled by Web Director Claire Tankersley. The report will be promoted via social media and shared with the student body.
Additionally, UC President Neville Pinto will speak to senate members during the Oct. 11 meeting in TUC 425. Pinto aims to discuss his strategic plan for the university with senate officials, and further details will be announced as they are made available.