Penn State Debate Team Discusses the Pros, Cons to Banning Hate Speech on Campus
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- On October 24, 2022, Penn State students protested outside the Thomas Building to prevent Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes and comedian Alex Stein from speaking at a comedy show put on by the university club Uncensored America.
The event was canceled before it was scheduled to start due to “threat of escalating violence,” according to a university press release.
The protest has since stirred conversations about the right to free speech and protest, especially on a college campus.
Penn State’s debate team argued if hate speech should be banned on college campuses on April 13, 2023.
Debating in the affirmative, Kaitlyn McMahon said allowing hate speech on campus makes students feel unwelcome in their own environment.
“At University Park alone, 14,000 students live on this campus,” McMahon said. “By allowing hate groups to speak here, you are allowing students to feel unsafe and harassed where they live--at their front door.”
Penn State released a statement prior to the Oct. 24 event that explained its obligation to allow the speakers on campus.
“We are unalterably obligated under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to protect various expressive rights, even for those whose viewpoints offend our basic institutional values and our personal sensibilities,” according to the release.
McMahon acknowledged this in her speech, but countered it with the use of Title IX.
According to Penn State policy, Title IX is “a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, gender-identity, and/or sexual orientation.” The policy is intended to prohibit “sexual harassment and misconduct.”
If hate speech is treated like harassment, then the university can prevent hate speech under Title IX, Mcmahon said.
Lenneya Murray, McMahon’s partner, defined hate speech for the audience.
“Use of words which are deliberately abusive, insulting, threatening or deeming directed at members of vulnerable minorities, calculated to stir up hatred against them,” Murray said. “That includes any and everything that falls under the Title IX criteria.”
Daniel Peral argued for the negative and gave the example of the Million Man March, which was led by the leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, at Washington D.C. in 2011.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Farrakhan is an “antisemite” who leads a “bizarre and fundamentally anti-white,” hate group.
However, the Million Man March gathered thousands of people “to protest for important minority issues,” Peral said.
“Imagine a world where speech was curtailed to the beak’s of its messenger rather than the speech itself. It is possible we will never see a Million Man March,” Peral said.
Courtney Aubain supplemented her partner’s point by speaking about the exceptions to free speech, like libel and words that can incite violence. If hate speech is banned, Aubain said, then it sets “a dangerous precedent for government censorship.”
“The government [has] the power to regulate speech based on content, which would lead to regulation of all forms of speech,” Aubain said.
Aubain went on to say that suppressing voices and opinion can lead to violence from the people who feel they don’t have another outlet.
Audience member Samarth Khandelwal sided with the affirmative and was not swayed from his stance by the debate. However, he saw a point that neither side brought up.
“Hate speech is also something that limits discourse,” Khandelwal said. “If we’re in a place that allows hate speech, that hate speech will drown out specifically marginalized groups.”
Khandelwal said he attended the protest and was “about six-feet away from getting [maced].” He said he went out because he didn’t like that “the Proud Boys were coming.”
Alison Patton is a second-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.