LETTERS (con’t): Book drive and free speech


New book drive

This week, you may have learned about the book drive for the KIPP S.T.A.R. Charter School in Harlem. The KIPP network is composed of outstanding schools successfully educating poor and minority children.

I chose to work with this school because of the incredible results achieved by KIPP schools through their rigorous, high-standards approach. In fact, Worth magazine named KIPP one of the 100 Best Charities in America due to its “consistently impressive” results. The book drive evolved because I believe that children who love to read are children who love to learn. All children should attend schools with diverse and interesting libraries.

When I began organizing the drive, sponsored initially only by Advocates for Education, I reached out to several HLS student organizations for co-sponsorship. Although we do not share political views, I gratefully accepted the enthusiastic and committed response I received from the Federalist Society. The reason I did so is simple: My goal is to collect as many books as possible for a school that will be a ray of hope in one of the worst public school districts in the United States. I have no other agenda. After several weeks working with the Federalist Society Community Service Chair, 2L Amanda Gregory, I say with confidence that she has no ulterior motive, either. We share the same goal.

In keeping with that goal, we have created several ways for the HLS community to donate. The simplest of these is the KIPPSTAR wishlist on Amazon.com. Another is to leave books in the box near the Harkboxes. Contributions create an important link between those of us who have so many opportunities, and those whose worlds are just beginning to open up.

I trust the members of the HLS community will treat this book drive as what it is: an opportunity to give books to children who will use and appreciate them. The book drive is about children, not politics.

— Katie Schaaf, 2L
Advocates for Education

Response to Tsehai

I write concerning Yohannes Tsehai’s column, “Harassment policy duplicity” in last week’s RECORD. Tsehai suggests that our currently-existing sexual harassment policy restricts speech in much the same way as an as-yet-unwritten racial harassment policy, thus rendering opponents hypocritical for failing to oppose the sexual harassment policy with equal vigor. Tsehai is mistaken.

Unlike any likely rendering of a racial harassment policy, many of the sexual harassment policy’s provisions involve conduct, not speech. Neither physical intimidation nor inappropriate physical behavior between faculty and students invoke issues of free speech, and thus should be restricted by a harassment policy. Section II, subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b) of the sexual harassment policy offer some examples.

More importantly, the sexual harassment policy has already been adopted and is not currently up for revision, while the racial harassment policy does not currently exist. It is far more realistic to stop bad policy before it is adopted than to change bad policy after it has become part of the institutional culture. Understanding and adapting to reality is in no way hypocritical or intellectually dishonest. If Tsehai is suggesting we revisit the sexual harassment policy, I would gladly support him in the task.

The mere existence of a sexual harassment policy — even a policy that violates commonly-held conceptions of intellectual and academic freedom — in no way argues for the adoption of increasingly restrictive speech codes. The hobgoblin of foolish consistency is a poor reason to impose Orwellian groupthink on this once-storied bastion of the First Amendment.

— Nels Peterson, 2L
Students for Free Speech

Left-wing students should unite

We write this letter in hopes of continuing the discussion raised by Yohannes Tsehai in his opinion piece, “Our Duplicity on Harassment Policies,” published in last week’s RECORD. First, we would like to clarify a point made in the column: Potentially lower grades received by minority law students, even if proven, would demonstrate not the “inferiority” of these students, but would instead reflect serious institutional and pedagogical limitations of legal education. This contention is bolstered by studies showing no substantive difference in post-law school performance.

We would now like to address the inconsistency of many liberals and liberal groups that fail to fully support demands for a racial harassment policy, in contrast to their support of sexual harassment policies.

Since the consideration of a racial harassment policy by the Committee on Diversity has come under attack by various conservative voices and “free-speech” advocates, there has been a lack of meaningful response from liberal campus voices. This is particularly problematic with regard to women who believe the Law School’s sexual harassment policy is important, but do not recognize or fully support affinity groups in the struggle to mediate similar power imbalances through reasonable limitations on valueless, hateful speech so vicious that it meets an official definition of harassment. Such intellectually devoid speech prevents meaningful communication in our community. An absolutist notion of “free speech” in this context is unjustifiable because we live in a reality of power imbalances. In a marketplace of ideas, those with disproportionate power to affect market forces can monopolize the discourse, effectively marginalizing underrepresented groups. Thus, to oppose either the current sexual harassment policy or a proposed racial harassment policy on free speech grounds would be an absurd choice of a false, abstract “freedom” over the psychological and social well-being of the HLS community

The lack of outward collective support for a racial harassment policy is symptomatic of the absence of unity among liberal and left students and groups. The primary effect of our failure to support each other’s initiatives is to allow conservative students to dominate the discourse through piecemeal co-optation of liberal groups who are unwilling to expend their political capital on proposals for social change not entirely controlled by them. The end result is that policies essential to a healthy social environment succumb to attacks by more unified conservative groups and misguided “free speech” absolutists.

For a long time, attacking the positions of other liberal and leftist groups has been a badge of honor in the liberal/left community. In our view, this infighting has damaged more worthy causes in academia than all the conservative resistance combined. We suggest a new political approach for liberal and left groups on this campus: Instead of self-interested political calculation, which has only led to disenfranchisement, we should adopt a vision of solidarity with an understanding that acting collectively will be more effective at realizing the political and social changes to which we aspire. This would require explicit, vocal support of each other’s agendas rather than the tacit acceptance that often characterizes the best of our current interaction. A quest for social change demands more from all of us.

— Aaron Lamb
Lena Salaymeh
Yohannes Tsehai