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July 1, 2016 6

Free Speech and Fair Treatment for All

Jonathan Green­blatt, CEO and National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League, has joined the Aspen Ideas Fes­ti­val to dis­cuss the debate on col­lege cam­puses and beyond about the mean­ing of free speech and lan­guage that crosses a line and actu­ally dimin­ishes, rather than fos­ters, open discourse.

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium

The tug of war betwJG @ Aspeneen ideas is not new on col­lege cam­puses. The very nature of the uni­ver­sity is to gain knowl­edge and to “unlearn [the] habits” of con­ven­tion in the words of Leon Wieseltier. And yet, many argue that free speech is under siege. In recent years, these issues have flared up across the coun­try, grab­bing head­lines as inci­dents at the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri, Yale Uni­ver­sity, and Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity have sparked a national con­ver­sa­tion about the exchange of ideas and the foot­print of history.

As Yale Col­lege Dean Jonathan Hol­loway shared at the Aspen Ideas Fes­ti­val yes­ter­day, these were highly charged debates punc­tu­ated by intensely per­sonal moments. Through­out our dis­cus­sion, it became clear that a sim­ple assess­ment of right ver­sus wrong often doesn’t work. The clash of the­ory and prac­tice con­founds admin­is­tra­tors and trustees who strug­gle with the com­plex real­i­ties of how to ensure the uni­ver­sity is an inclu­sive envi­ron­ment and yet one that cul­ti­vates debate and dissent.

But some­times, it’s actu­ally very simple.

For exam­ple, the issue of Israel has been a flash­point on many cam­puses for some time. While there is noth­ing wrong with debat­ing its poli­cies as a mat­ter of prac­tice, there is some­thing pro­foundly wrong when some with strong views exploit aca­d­e­mic free­dom to shut down the free exchange of ideas and mar­gin­al­ize a seg­ment of cam­pus, in this case Jew­ish stu­dents. Yet this often hap­pens when Israel is the topic. We have seen anti-Israel agi­ta­tors intim­i­date Jew­ish stu­dents, shout down Israeli speak­ers and attempt to pre­vent Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions from even dis­cussing issues of social jus­tice.

Sadly, such inci­dents are not sur­pris­ing. These are the tac­tics of the anti-normalization strat­egy tak­ing hold in some cir­cles, the idea that even talk­ing to stu­dents who are Jew­ish con­sti­tutes an offense because of their poten­tial views on Israel. Such dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices clearly fall far out­side all soci­etal norms but their influ­ence can be felt in broader circles.

Anti-Israel Protest - U-Michigan

An anti-Israel protest by Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan students

Indeed, in the halls of some of our most elite uni­ver­si­ties, stu­dent lead­ers are traf­fick­ing in vicious anti-Semitic stereo­types. Oth­ers bizarrely con­flate Zion­ism with all the per­ceived ills at their insti­tu­tions. We have seen attempts to exclude Jew­ish stu­dents from tak­ing part fully in stu­dent life or sug­ges­tions that they only can do so if they would sub­mit to oaths not required of their peers.

Such big­otry is not the norm across the span of higher edu­ca­tion. Yet these inci­dents should serve as reminders that anti-intellectualism and intol­er­ance on cam­pus can con­geal into hos­tile envi­ron­ments that intim­i­date and mar­gin­al­ize peo­ple based on faith or nationality.

Uni­ver­sity admin­is­tra­tors can take con­crete mea­sures to pre­vent such occur­rences. First, they can cre­ate appro­pri­ate time, place, and man­ner poli­cies that allow those who want to protest a par­tic­u­lar speaker to do so — but in a man­ner that does not infringe on the free­dom of speech that should be accorded to the speaker and to the audi­ence who wants to hear their views.

Univ-California Irvine - Anti-Israel

Sec­ond, the admin­is­tra­tion can use its own voice to respond to hate­ful speech. Finally, the admin­is­tra­tion can take swift puni­tive action when stu­dents phys­i­cally threaten their peers, demon­strat­ing that there is a price to pay when you phys­i­cally intim­i­date others.

Cam­puses should be a place for debate not silenc­ing. Hos­tile envi­ron­ments that impair the free exchange of ideas injure us all. When the topic is Israel, let’s do more to ensure that all stu­dents can take part and that prej­u­dice is left out of the debate.

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June 22, 2015 1

What Should We Tell Our Children About Charleston?

Credit: Stephen Melkisethian / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Credit: Stephen Melkisethian / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As we grieve, protest and fur­ther inves­ti­gate the hor­rific mur­der of nine African Amer­i­can parish­ioners at the his­toric Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, many peo­ple are ask­ing: What should we tell the children?

Par­ents, fam­ily mem­bers and oth­ers are some­times uneasy about dis­cussing issues of vio­lence and injus­tice with chil­dren because they want to pro­tect them from ter­ri­ble and scary top­ics. How­ever, it is impor­tant that chil­dren have a lan­guage for dis­cussing the unfair­ness and injus­tice they see in the world and that as adults, we model that these con­ver­sa­tions are ones we are will­ing to engage in as we assure them that we are work­ing to coun­ter­act injustice.

Except for very young chil­dren, it is impor­tant to raise the issue with chil­dren. It is likely that with online access and the 24/7 hour news cycle, many young peo­ple have already heard about it and may be look­ing for an oppor­tu­nity to learn more. In talk­ing with chil­dren about emo­tion­ally chal­leng­ing top­ics, remem­ber to:

  • Give them the time and space to express their feel­ings (what­ever those feel­ings are) and actively lis­ten with empa­thy and compassion.
  • Find out what they already know, clar­ify any mis­in­for­ma­tion they have and answer their ques­tions. If you don’t know the answer, be hon­est about that and find out the answer together.
  • In an age-appropriate way and using lan­guage they can under­stand, share your own thoughts, feel­ings and spe­cific val­ues about the topic.
  • Give youth infor­ma­tion about what is being done to make things safe and what actions are tak­ing place to coun­ter­act the injustice.

Here are spe­cific talk­ing points you may want to cover with young people:

Words and sym­bols matter

We have heard that the alleged shooter, Dylann Storm Roof, told racist jokes and spewed biased ide­ol­ogy. A con­tem­po­rary of Roof’s said “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seri­ously like that.” Hate has the poten­tial to esca­late and the Pyra­mid of Hate illus­trates how biased behav­iors and attitudes—when left unchallenged—can lead to more seri­ous acts of dis­crim­i­na­tion and bias-motivated vio­lence such as the one per­pe­trated in Charleston. If those atti­tudes, beliefs and behav­iors were ques­tioned and addressed, per­haps there would have been dif­fer­ent out­comes and those nine lives would not have been taken.

Sym­bols are forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that con­vey impor­tant mes­sages to chil­dren about what we value, what is impor­tant and what kind of soci­ety we want to cre­ate. Hate sym­bols, espe­cially when dis­sem­i­nated and per­va­sive, com­mu­ni­cate that hate and bias are accept­able. Roof had patches on his jacket of flags of regimes in South African and Rhode­sia that enforced the vio­lent white minor­ity rule. He was also seen in sev­eral pho­tos with a Con­fed­er­ate flag, which has come to sym­bol­ize racial hatred and big­otry. Iron­i­cally, the flag is still dis­played in South Carolina’s state­house grounds in Colum­bia and activists and elected offi­cials have been press­ing for its removal for years.

Racism is sys­temic and can be overcome

While Roof was not a for­mal mem­ber of a white suprema­cist orga­ni­za­tion, he espoused white supremacy ide­ol­ogy that is preva­lent, online and world­wide. In address­ing this topic with young peo­ple, we need to give them hope and inspi­ra­tion by show­ing them that we have come a long way on issues of race and other social jus­tice issues by push­ing for leg­is­la­tion, edu­cat­ing peo­ple and tak­ing action. At the same time, it is also impor­tant that we con­nect the dots so that young peo­ple under­stand that issues such as school seg­re­ga­tion, racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and vot­ing rights are not indi­vid­ual acts but are part of a larger sys­tem and that if soci­etal change is going to take place, the solu­tions also need to be systemic.

Activism makes a difference

Since the mur­ders last week, there have been protests across the coun­try and in Charleston and Colum­bia, SC specif­i­cally call­ing pub­lic offi­cials to take down the Con­fed­er­ate flag as a first step. On Sun­day, in a mov­ing demon­stra­tion of empa­thy and con­nec­tion, church bells across Charleston tolled for nine min­utes to sym­bol­ize the nine vic­tims. We know that our nation has a long his­tory of activism that has brought about sig­nif­i­cant social change–from mar­riage equal­ity to immi­gra­tion reform and the recent “Black Lives Mat­ter” move­ment. One of the most impor­tant prin­ci­ples we can con­vey to our chil­dren is that their voices and actions make a dif­fer­ence and will help to build a bet­ter world.

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July 24, 2013 4

Foul Ball: Hate Speech, Twitter & Baseball

In the past week, the abil­ity to spread hate about eth­nic and reli­gious minori­ties in real time has twice played out on Twit­ter in the con­text of baseball. ryan-braun-twitter-hate

After Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers out­fielder Ryan Braun was sus­pended from Major League Base­ball for the remain­der of this sea­son for using per­for­mance enhanc­ing drugs, some Twit­ter users responded by post­ing dis­tinctly anti-Semitic messages.

Among the tweets that can be found when search­ing for Braun on Twit­ter are:

  • leave it to a jew to cheat the sys­tem, deceive peo­ple, then tar­nish other’s rep­u­ta­tions. Fuck you asshole
  • Ryan Braun jew’d us!
  • Ryan Braun didn’t make a mistake…he cheated, lied about it and than got caught…fuckin jew
  • Of course Ryan Braun was juiced out of his mind. How else could a Jew be that great at any­thing besides accounting

While anti-Semitic tweets about Braun did not start with his sus­pen­sion, the recent tweets fol­low a bar­rage of racist tweets in response to singer Marc Antony’s singing “God Bless Amer­ica” at Major League Baseball’s All-Star game in New York on July 16.

While Anthony is an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen of Puerto Rican descent, numer­ous offen­sive tweets made the rounds, say­ing  “shouldn’t an Amer­i­can be singing God Bless Amer­ica?” and imply­ing that Anthony is actu­ally from Mex­ico or Cuba, gen­er­ally assert­ing  any­one who is Latino in appear­ance is not inher­ently American.

ADL ardently sup­ports the right to free speech, but believes that social media and other Inter­net sites also have an oblig­a­tion to police their com­mu­ni­ties and con­front those who pro­mote anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of hate speech.

Twit­ter has no terms of ser­vice or com­mu­nity stan­dards that address aggres­sive or mali­cious behav­ior on the ser­vice. Addi­tion­ally, Twit­ter does not pro­vide even the most basic “Flag­ging” mech­a­nism for com­plaints which is widely used on the expe­ri­enced plat­forms run by Google and Facebook.

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