To the Editor:
Like many, I am concerned that a speech code would chill valuable speech on campus. In particular, I wonder whether Diversity Committee members would discipline the author of any of the following opinions:
1. Only the most hyperbolic imagination could believe that racism remainsa problem at Harvard. Indeed, the threat of being called a racist does more to chill speech on campus than the use of racial slurs.
2. However uncouth the two racist incidents of last spring, most adults,
to say nothing of aspiring attorneys, learn to withstand such petty
contumely. Even if they can’t, the incidents did not merit public demonstrations, months of campus angst, petitions, demands from the
administration, and, now, a speech code.
3. The two students responsible for the racist incidents of last spring
have already suffered public obloquy, ostracism, discipline from the
administration, withdrawn job offers, and may have had their legal careers ruined. A regime which visits even more punishment upon others like them verges on cruelty.
4. The effect, if not the purpose, of “Diversity Fairs,” “Ethnic Counselers,” and other programs of “Sensitivity Training” is to augment
racial differences and exacerbate racial tensions. If the administration
really wanted to promote understanding between races, it would eliminate all such programs and add no more.
5. African-Americans at Harvard are far more likely to have their speech
chilled by fellow African-Americans than anyone else, as the savage
treatment that Clarence Thomas receives attests. Given that groups like
BLSA reinforce the assumption that African-Americans speak univocally, an administration serious about encouraging African-Americans to speak up would withdraw its imprimatur from BLSA and all other ethnic student groups.
6. African-Americans may very well feel disproportionately intimidated at
Harvard Law School, but that is more likely a function of affirmative
action, which creates a presumption that blacks on campus are less
qualified, than systemic racism on campus.
7. BLSA’s habit last spring of capitalizing the first letter of “black”
in its literature has undeniably racialist overtones. Certainly no group
could get away with calling whites “Whites.”
I welcome any thoughts on which of the above opinions, if any, should be silenced.
–Austin W. Bramwell, 3L
A Lesson Already Learned
I recently read a story about the debate inside Harvard Law School regarding the establishment of a harrassment policy for the school. The article reminded me of events that transpired at Tufts University during my sophomore year, 1988-89.
During the Fall semester, a male student printed and sold t-shirts on campus that listed “The Top 15 Reasons why Beer is Better than Women at Tufts”. The t-shirt offended a lot of people, and one female student in particular was so offended that she asked the administration for permission to buy the shirts and burn them on the campus quad.
The administration responded by suspending the male student who printed the shirts and establishing a speech code that laid out private, semi-private, and public zones on campus with different rules for allowable speech.
The speech code sparked a debate at Tufts much like the current debate at Harvard Law School. Opinions on campus were sharply divided about the potential effects of the code. In the end, a Harvard Constitutional Law professor (whose name, alas, eludes me) wrote a spirited defense of free speech that, in large part, led the administration at Tufts to repeal the speech code policy.
There is certainly a better way to protect students from harrassment than to demolish the First Amendment. I strongly urge the faculty and the administration at Harvard Law to review the events that transpired at Tufts in 1988-89 and, much as that administration did, reject the establishment of a de facto speech code for the school on Constitutional grounds.
San Diego, CA
[Because the next issue of The RECORD comes out in February, we are publishing Letters to the Editor directly to the website.