The Chemistry of Free Speech

Kate McCarthy

The message emblazoned on that now infamous bridge panel is so hateful it sickens me. In fact, it’s straight up racist, folks. I know it, you know it, we all do. The “Build the Wall” panel’s appearance has sparked renewed political debate and discourse all over campus in the last few days — a perverse silver lining in the middle of a mess. How do we justify the unacceptable fact that many students will now walk past that panel every day feeling fundamentally unsafe, unsupported and unwelcome?

I sometimes, like all of us, wish that only the people I agree with had free speech. Those people, for me, are the ones who support progress and opportunity for all. But, that’s not the way it works — free speech can’t be one-sided or discerning. You can’t give it to Black Lives Matter without also granting it to the KKK (unfortunately). But, when an act of brazen, strident, incendiary hate speech occurs, a reaction as extreme should be expected.

While the College Republicans are able and protected under the First Amendment to trumpet (subtle, don’t miss it) their message loudly, the subsequent vandalism should also be considered an act of free speech. Any step taken in the future around this topic will be another in a string of responses. I think that this issue transcends the question of whether or not spray painting over the panel was ethical. This is a space shared by all members of the campus community and the final word shouldn’t have to come until we’ve all had a chance to share our thoughts with our neighbors and peers.