White nationalist speakers in the ivory tower: are universities obligated to protect hateful speech?

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Gallagher, Brynn
Donnelly, Michael, 1968-
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Thesis (B.?)
Honors College
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In the wake of a rising tide of hate crime and active hate groups, the institution of the university is being simultaneously criticized and hailed for hosting white nationalist guest speakers and rhetoric. Many argue to allow the presence of hateful speech on campus on the basis that it is an unavoidable part of having a democratic society, and attempting to limit it would also limit the free exchange of ideas that is not only integral to learning at the university level, but integral to the mission of higher education. I contend that the university’s mission of education and certifying expertise necessitates censoring outdated or erroneous speech, which encompasses hateful speech, in order to maintain credibility. In effect, this does not stifle students’ rights, but strengthens them by allowing marginalized students equal protection. I ultimately argue that an absolutist interpretation of the First Amendment typical in American public discourse functions to reproduce white racial dominance and thusly guards the university as an “inner dike” or white center of property. To amend this, we must balance our values of freedom with those of dignity and equal opportunity. The questions guiding this research are as follows:

  1. What is the predominant attitude toward free speech on campus, and how does that relate to tolerating white nationalist guest speakers?
  2. What is the role of higher education, in terms of its central mission and purpose, in regulating or not regulating speech?
  3. How does hate speech affect students?