Importance of free speech

Dawn Nowacki, Associate dean of faculty, professor

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To the editor,

In response to Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt’s op ed of May 17th, I’d like us to consider the following.

I agree that change at Linfield does not happen quickly, and that we are behind the times with regard to embracing diversity in all of its manifestations. Certainly there are unacknowledged and unconscious power relations at work, and awareness of them should be fostered. Many of us do this in our classes in ways that allow proponents of diverse viewpoints to speak and to be heard. Giving voice to historically marginalized groups, though, is not zero sum. It should not come at the cost of silencing historically privileged groups. This just creates hostility and less willingness to listen on the part of the privileged. It can easily degenerate into violence, on both sides, as we’ve seen recently. Privileged groups need to be brought skillfully to awareness of their privilege. It is better to have dialogue, even with people whose views appear to be inimical or hurtful to us, than to silence them into a fury that can burst out unpredictably in hate crimes. Only in dialogue can a deeper understanding be reached. Democratic institutions, including constitutional protections of rights, function to achieve peaceful conflict resolution. It’s what we do instead of using violence or intimidation to further our interests. You’re right, outrage probably cannot be expressed civilly. But is outrage a constructive response to provocation?

Do I agree with “rape culture,” racism, ethnocentrism, homophobia, misogyny? No, absolutely not. But it is important to counter those who would promote such things on this campus under the guise of free speech, not through silencing them, but by engaging with them and unveiling these ideas for what they are. Overt white supremacism, misogyny and hatred of LGBQTI people have not been strongly expressed in the events organized by the Young Americans for Liberty. In fact, these efforts are a lot more subtle. Just as becoming a terrorist is a gradual, step by step process, people do not become part of the alt right overnight. These events represent a kind of soft recruitment into more extremist ideas. The way to counter them is not to shut them down, but to discuss what is really going on, and to point out that the more extreme ideas behind the superficial reasonableness of the premises (men’s rights movement, free speech that includes an arguably ambiguous “Pepe the Frog”) are hateful and truly do harm people of color, those who have nonhegemonic sexual and gender orientations, and other marginalized groups. Perhaps some of the YAL organizers will not be convinced, but certainly other students who might be attracted by such views or the seemingly laudable way in which they are cast (i.e. free speech) need to hear what this discussion is really about.

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6 Comments

6 Responses to “Importance of free speech”

  1. Mark Ogden on May 20th, 2017 1:42 pm

    Dear Professor Nowacki,
    I have been reading the attacks on Prof. Ballerstadt (by the same students, unfortunately) and I am glad that you are modeling engagement in a critical dialogue here, by both agreeing and disagreeing. This is what professors do and both you and Prof.Ballerstadt is modeling this quite beautifully. Prof. Ballerstadt brings a kind of voice and argument to the platform on free speech here that we cannot ignore. In fact those that are “privileged” but want to undo privilege may have a great deal to learn (if they allow themselves to stop and listen) to what Prof-Ballerstadt is advocating for, which I think is a anti-racist, anti-homophobic and even anti-privilege climate. Linfield may be doing the talking but not the walking and this is why many students and faculty within Linfield (who are not privileged) have a right to be outraged. Look at the historical times we are living in. Can you blame those that hold many minority positions to not be outraged?
    If I may say, I did not read Prof.Ballersadt’s editorial as a call for violence. Outrage is an emotional response, perhaps even a passionate one, but not violence. It appears that you may be reading outrage as violence. I just wanted to point out the difference.

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  2. Joe the Plumber on May 20th, 2017 10:02 pm

    As a student on campus who has friends in the YAL club, I do believe that Dawn has taken leave of her senses to go on an inappropriate and disgusting rant about students. She clearly has no clue what the club represents, and to even SUGGEST that is perhaps hiding a secret and growing neo-nazi movement on campus is not only horrifying, it’s also extremely inappropriate. As a political science professor I honestly thought Dawn would have more brains than to come out swinging at a political, mainstream group on campus. I think it is time she takes a step back and re-evaluates her stance and opinions on this subject, or perhaps the faculty as a whole should encourage her to do so. I certainly know the student body would. There have been NO instances, subtle or otherwise, where the YAL has expressed or condoned white supremacism. If she actually took the time to go to their events instead of just making up random theories about them, she would know that. Dawn Nowacki, you have made a huge mistake, and I seriously think you need to apologize to the group as a whole.

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  3. Ben on May 21st, 2017 2:01 am

    Dawn Nowacki says, “It should not come at the cost of silencing historically privileged groups.”
    What? Historically privileged groups are silenced these days? Your response, if you hold a mirror in front of your face will hear incredibly unaware but “White Privilege” speaking. Have you ever thought about taking a class on understanding your own White privilege professor? Reading this response I realized that Linfield cannot be a good place for faculty and students of color, or those that are not privileged, when in this political climate there are professors who are more concerned with giving a voice to the historically privileged (like White Straight Christian Wealthy Men and Women) than listening to the under privileged. It is mentality like this that has given rise to the extreme right movement.
    Wow, I did not realize that Linfield has such conservative professors. Sad.

    “Do I agree with “rape culture,” racism, ethnocentrism, homophobia, misogyny? No, absolutely not. But it is important to counter those who would promote such things on this campus under the guise of free speech, not through silencing them, but by engaging with them and unveiling these ideas for what they are.”

    If you were a rape victim can you imagine what it would be like to sit in a room full of people giving their free speech on rape apologists? If you were black, would you like to sit and hear what a racist have to say about black people being dumb and inferior or savages? The above statement is morally reckless and reeking of White privilege.

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  4. Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt on May 21st, 2017 6:10 pm

    Dear Dawn,
    Thank you for engaging. I am intrigued by your statement “giving voice to historically marginalized groups is not zero sum. It should not come at the cost of silencing historically privileged groups.”

    This argument that “historically privileged groups being silenced” is an interesting contradiction, or even an oxymoron, since implicitly and explicitly ithose that belong to this “historically privileged groups” have power. So how is it possible that those that have power can be silenced, given the intimate relationship power and privilege share with each other?

    Are they really being silenced? Or are they feeling being silenced as a result of a power shift (economic, cultural, educational) where the “historically privileged” are the new “oppressed group” and those that have been “historically oppressed” have power? In other words, if it were true that this historically privileged is now the oppressed or the marginalized — do they now belong to a “protected class?”

    Anyhow, the issue of who is silenced and who has the power to speak, and who can and is allowed to speak for others is a rich discourse, and central to this discourse is a intersectional engagement with power and it’s relationship to privilege, or lack of it. And yes, “privilege” can also be paradoxical.

    I thought you may like to read this piece that was in the Huff Post that perhaps mimics the conversation going on in many college campuses.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/dear-persecuted-college-conservative_us_584a4179e4b0151082221a02

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  5. Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt on May 21st, 2017 6:56 pm

    I fully agree with what you say here: “Overt white supremacism, misogyny and hatred of LGBQTI people have not been strongly expressed in the events organized by the Young Americans for Liberty. In fact, these efforts are a lot more subtle. Just as becoming a terrorist is a gradual, step by step process, people do not become part of the alt right overnight. These events represent a kind of soft recruitment into more extremist ideas. The way to counter them is not to shut them down, but to discuss what is really going on, and to point out that the more extreme ideas behind the superficial reasonableness of the premises (men’s rights movement, free speech that includes an arguably ambiguous “Pepe the Frog”) are hateful and truly do harm people of color, those who have nonhegemonic sexual and gender orientations, and other marginalized groups. ”
    It is this “subtle” undertones and the sub text that is very troubling. Such subtle maneuvers (unconsciously) can lead to a kind of embodiment of ideas. It is this unknowing casting of the bait and if one bites it, then I guess the gradual process of a kind of radicalization can begin.

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  6. ALK on May 23rd, 2017 4:06 pm

    Prof. Nowacki – if you are not a member of a marginalized community, then you do not get to decide what harms that community.
    I am from a conservative state. I have had overt acts of violence enacted on my body by people who hold the same beliefs as the YAL group, because I am queer.
    Why the hell do I have to argue that I have human rights? That’s what a ‘debate’ here looks like. You are asking people like me to debate over whether or not we have human rights. I call these ‘sealion’ debates – debates that are not engaged with good intentions, where the goal of ‘sealion’ is to refuse any argument, any data that proves them wrong, under the guise of “i’m just trying to understand, why are you getting mad” without ever actually trying to understand. Any time (10+ years of queer activism) I have ever ‘debated’ with people who hold bigoted beliefs it has turned into a sealion debate. This is because hard-right groups can, and often do, train people in how to do this.
    (Sealioning comes from “Wondermark”, by David Malki.)

    Also – what do you define as an overt act? Peterson’s whole spiel is pure misogyny and transphobia, wrapped up in pseudo-academic jargon. Pepe the Frog is classified as a hate symbol by the SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League (statement published Sep. 2016). How is that “ambiguous”?

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Importance of free speech