By Missy Conception
There are misconceptions circulating around the Cornell University campus regarding President Martha Pollack’s Inaugural Address given on August 25, 2017. To think that she expects us to walk the walk and not just talk the talk when it comes to free speech is ABLEIST!
Below, an excerpt from her speech that has been illustrated and annotated to clear up any misconceptions.
Tightly linked to our commitment to truth is our second civic responsibility, to protect freedom of speech. Without an ability to hear all ideas, we cannot come to know what is true. We can only have successive approximations to truth if we allow statements that are at odds with the currently understood approximation.
This does not apply to speech we consider to be racist.
While there are significant distinctions in the way in which the United States Constitution affects public versus private institutions such as Cornell, there can be no wavering in our commitment to the values and rights inherent in the First Amendment to that Constitution. As a university—an institution whose very mission is tied to the free interchange of ideas—we have a special responsibility to be open to all thought.
Except racist thought, which really is not thought at all.
When faced with speech that is obnoxious, offensive, even hateful, we must remember what history has shown about the perils associated with suppressing speech: that so often it is the powerful majorities who suppress the speech of the less powerful. From abolitionists and suffragettes in the middle of the 19th century, to labor organizers in the early 20th century, to those who marched for civil rights in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, those seeking to advance freedoms and to fight oppression have had to fight for their rights to assemble, speak, and protest. The groups that we might aim to protect today by shutting down some offensive speech are the groups that would have stood to lose the most in the past had freedoms of speech been abridged.
Yeah, but now the virtuous people are in power, so this does not apply.
This does not mean that there are no limits to speech. Threats and conduct that incites imminent violence are not protected under the Constitution, nor would we tolerate such actions on our campus. Persistent harassment that targets an individual, or behavior that reasonably is deemed to disrupt university activities is also unacceptable. The lines are messy, and debate about them is an appropriate and healthy activity for our universities. But our first instinct must be to protect freedom of speech. While there are those who may promulgate messages that we collectively and institutionally abhor, we cannot allow them to push us into curtailing the rights that we cherish. Instead, it is our duty to use those rights to identify and confront evil, to educate, and to vigorously support, empower, and defend the dignity of those who are targeted by abhorrent speech.
The limits to speech apply to speech that we consider to be violence.