Letter to the Editor: The burden of free speech

To Whom it May Concern,

While serving as the Editor in Chief for this campus’ newspaper, I worked to ensure that free speech remained a protected right on this campus; while it is not always an easy responsibility to uphold, the Reporter has seen the ways in which the student body benefits from the right to free discussion in this, a public forum.

From my first day on campus to now, I have thought Minnesota State University, Mankato has done an admirable job in welcoming many diverse voices to speak and be heard on campus. So it was on this basis that I held back over the announcement that the campus would, at the invitation of a student group, be hosting a prominent writer from the alt-right extremist site Breitbart.

Briefly, this is a person who only survives on negative attention, making his name from gleefully slinging hate and lies. He doesn’t deserve the words written about him; his name won’t be included in them.

After years of spearheading unrepentant racial and sexual harassment online, this person was permanently removed from Twitter this summer for instigating a hate campaign against Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones.

While supporters declared this as an act of censorship against free speech, others saw this as the social media platform’s first real steps towards protecting its users against harassment.

See, while it may be a vast entity connecting the world, Twitter isn’t a public forum and can take measures to protect its users from attacks the same way a private business can shut down someone screaming racial obscenities at its customers. But even the notably permissive Twitter saw fit here to draw the line with someone who did irreparable damage to their community.

Admittedly, having the university cancel this event on those grounds would certainly bring around a discussion regarding the restriction of free speech. But I believe that this university should have exercised more caution when the use of hate speech and slurs against the LGBT community are explicitly used in the banner for this particular speaking engagement on this campus.

It bears mentioning that hate speech, threats, and “fighting words,” are not explicitly protected under the first amendment, and I believe that the language used by both the anticipated speaker on a regular basis and by this event’s advertising is hate speech and is a special instance that calls for the University to protect its students—not from an exchange of ideas, but by deliberate hateful language that threatens the safety of our diverse and beautiful student body.

MNSU is facing the same dilemma now that Twitter dealt with this summer. On the grounds of free speech, a platform has been given to someone who is the complete antithesis of the values of education, respect, and inclusivity the university is known for. Even with our eternal responsibility in mind, I would argue the need for more counseling and guidance from administrators to student groups in extreme or especially ill-fitting situations like this. If free speech is recognized here, it is the voices of the students that should be heard, high and above the voice of any potential speaker.


James Schuyler Houtsma
Former Reporter Editor in Chief

Rae Frame
Former Reporter Editor in Chief

4 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor: The burden of free speech

  • Jim Gullickson

    Beautifully written, James Schuyler Houtsma!

  • Denise Billington-Just

    EXCELLENT letter on freedom of speech and hate speech. Many student, Alumni, faculty, staff and community members feel similarly. Difficult to understand interest in and giving such presentations forum on our campus. I hope Student Organizations, Advisors and Administrators will reconsider the upcoming engagement and utilize insight gained from this conversation in future event decisions.

  • Dr. Julie Seidler

    Actually, hate speech is covered by the 1st Amendment. Threats and fighting words are not. Reporters need to check their facts always. “If your mother says she loves you…” (Sorry, I can’t help myself – I used to teach journalistic writing at the university level.)

  • Liz Vermeersch

    I agree whole-heartedly. The fact that MSU is providing a platform for hate speech is incredibly worrisome.


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