August 26, 1996 · Cavalier Daily

Speak Easy

This opinion article criticizes other universities for adopting "speech codes" designed to minimizes offensive, racist, or sexist speech. The writer objects to such codes on the basis that they are overly sensitive and hamper the open communication of ideas.


1996-08-26 Cavalier Daily Speak Easy.pdf
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Cavalier Daily
Cavalier Daily
Speak Easy
How can students participate in a liberal education with their mouths closed? With their ears peeled constantly for the slightest hint of offensiveness or insensitivity?
Simply, they cannot. A look around the academic neighborhood, however, shows numerous universities considering speech codes as intended cure-alls for the hurt feelings and communication gaps that inevitably occur in diverse collegiate populations. The University must remain above this melee.
Proposed regulations that prohibit racial and sexist remarks continue to hold allure for some institutions despite court rulings — such as the 1992 Supreme Court rejection of a Minnesota "hate crimes law" – that declare speech codes unconstitutionally broad. Three years ago, students at VCU considered but decided not to adopt an "oral harassment" rule in their code of behavior. But more recently both administrations and student groups at institutions such as the University of Massachusetts at Amherst have proposed speech codes banning what those group define as "insensitive speech" relating to gender, sexual orientation and race. To them, offensiveness is an offense, one that is objective.
The University thankfully has endured no formal speech code debate. But look closely students can and do inflict self-imposed speech codes on themselves and others by failing to communicate their views for fear they might offend or upset a specific group or go against the social grain, occurs when letters to the editor go unwritten, when history is recast in classrooms and when students try to inflict the undeniably noble quality of sensitivity on others via rules and regulations.
Students who do not challenge ideas in classrooms, who fear discussing ossues both their professors and peers, friends and enemies, sink the entire community's potential to educate itself no less than would formal speech restrictions.
Words are important. Sticks and stones are nothing compared to the power of words to create or destroy, to express love or hatred. Indeed we should use them carefully, but not because a law says so. Author Samuel Beckett wrote that "words are all we have." Following that thought, too many University students have nothing. Failing to express ideas, because of speech codes or sheer apathy, produces the same result. Officially limiting the possibility of giving or taking offense creates a community where people cannot think or speak for themselves. The most dangerous words are none at all.
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Date Added June 11, 2016
Date Modifed December 24, 2017
Collection Cavalier Daily: articles about gender discrimination

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