In recent years, a rise in verbal abuse and violence directed at people of color, lesbians, and gay men, and other historically persecuted groups has plagued the United States. Among the settings of these expressions of intolerance are college and university campuses, where bias incidents have occurred sporadically since the mid-1980's. Outrage, indignation and demands for change are the responses to these incidents - understandably, given the lack of racial and social diversity among students, faculty and administrators on most campuses. Many universities, under pressure to respond to the concerns of those who are the objects of hate, have adopted codes or olicies prhibiting speech that offends any group based on race gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. That's the wrong response, well-meaning or not. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content.
How much we valuse the right of free speech is out to its severest test when the speaker is someone we disagree with most. Speech that deeply offends our morality or is hostile to our way of life promises the same constitutional protection as other speech because the right of free speech is indivisible: When one of us is denied this right, all of us are denied. Where racist, sexist and homphobic speech is concerned, I believe that more speech - not less - is the best revenge. This is particualrly true at universities, whose mission is to facilitate learning through open debate and study, and to enlighten. Speech codes are not the way to go on campuses, where all views are entitled to be heard, explored, supported or refuted. Besides, when hate is out in the open, people can see the problem. They can organize effectively to encounter bad attitudes, possibly to change them, and imitate togetherness against the forces of intolerance.
College administrators may find speech codes attractive as a quick fix, but as one critic put it: "Verbal purity is npt social cjange.