It’s time to free speech on campus again
University of California

It’s time to stop conflating hate speech with free speech

Right-of-center, non-educator Janet Napolitano’s poor reasoning leads her to ignore that hate speech should never be conflated with free speech. The threadbare argument that “the way to deal with extreme… speech is …is with more speech” has led to the vile 2016 presidential candidates proffered by the two major political parties—both of whom frequently employ highly offensive speech (e.g. “grab them by the *#*#*, or “superpredators… bring them to heel”).

Certain speakers should be disinvited when their presence is reasonably offensive to a substantial majority of those on campus. I, for one, was horrified when UCLA hosted both Madeleine Albright and Hillary Rodham Clinton in succession—two individuals that should be frogged marched in shackles to the dock at The Hague for their myriad war crimes against peoples in the global south. This goes for other dubious speakers as well. I argued this in a letter to the Los Angeles Times a few years ago.

Reactionaries like Napolitano[1] have difficulty understanding that society is changing, and the racism, sexism, nativism, and imperialism that she so willingly defends is becoming less acceptable to a wider range of people. That’s a good thing, we shouldn’t countenance hate on campus. Perhaps because my law school focusses on social justice rather than fetishizing paternal “founding fathers,” my outlook on first amendment issues is quite different than Napolitano’s. It’s unfortunate that the University of California is headed by an individual that vigorously argues for the our oppressors’ “right to free speech,” while overlooking the power dynamics that privileges the speech of the powerful over that of that of the powerless. Students deserve better than that.

I’m UCLA Class of 2014. Whenever I look at my degree I feel great joy. That is, until I look at the bottom left signature.

[1] I address Napolitano’s nativist, anti-immigrant history in a law school paper that was later published in a heavily edited form in Jacobin Magazine. The section on Napolitano appears in the original paper. That a racist, nativist individual that headed the reactionary Department of Homeland Security now leads one of the most diverse university systems in the country is disconcerting.