250 people, including Black Students United Co-Chairs Traciann Celestin '19 and Delmar Fears '19, center, packed into Clark Hall on Tuesday to support BSU after an assault in Collegetown in which a black student said he was punched repeatedly by several white men and called the N-word.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

250 people, including Black Students United Co-Chairs Traciann Celestin '19 and Delmar Fears '19, center, packed into Clark Hall on Tuesday to support BSU after an assault in Collegetown in which a black student said he was punched repeatedly by several white men and called the N-word.

September 20, 2017

University Assembly Committee to Consider ‘Hate Speech’ Clause After 250 Pack Meeting in Protest

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About 250 people packed into the University Assembly meeting on Tuesday as leaders of Black Students United at Cornell declared, fists raised in a largely-silent protest, that “hate speech is not free speech,” leading the U.A. to direct a committee to consider adding an amendment to the Campus Code of Conduct regarding “hate speech.”

Students, many wearing black in support of BSU, squeezed around tables and sat on the floor of Clark Hall as Delmar Fears ’19 and Traciann Celestin ’19, the co-chairs of BSU, delivered a back-and-forth statement to the U.A.

“Silence is power,” Celestin said.

“Hate speech is not free speech,” Fears continued.

“We will not waste anymore emotional labor than we have already lost explaining basic human rights to this Assembly,” Celestin said.

The refrain, repeated several times over the course of about half an hour, ended with an apparent reference to U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters.

“You will give us our time,” Celestin said. Fears added: “We are reclaiming our time.”

Members of Black Students United and supporters protest at a University Assembly meeting in Clark Hall, Sept. 19, 2017.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Members of Black Students United and supporters protest at a University Assembly meeting in Clark Hall, Sept. 19, 2017.

Following the statement, Celestin, Fears and hundreds of other students in the room sat and stood silently — some with fists in the air or posters unfurled — as U.A. members, after some procedural quips, sat quietly at the front of the room.

The protest — about four days after a student said he was punched and called the N-word by a group of four or five white men — led the U.A. to task its Codes and Judicial Committee with considering adding a “hate speech” clause to the Code.

Police have arrested a 19-year-old student, John Greenwood ’20, and charged him with misdemeanor assault. Police are still investigating whether to charge the student with a hate crime.

The U.A. charged the CJC with producing a timeline at the next U.A. meeting on Oct. 3 laying out a plan to incorporate an amendment to the Code regarding hate speech by the end of the fall semester, said Gabe Kaufman ’18, chair of the U.A.

The CJC’s task is broad: the committee could satisfy its charge by producing an amendment to the Code that refers to “hate speech” in any way, including simply declaring that it is free speech.

But the CJC could also recommend that the U.A. add a hate speech ban to the Code. Any addition to the Code regarding speech would need the approval of President Martha Pollack, who has pledged to defend free speech.

The CJC effort will be led by Matthew Battaglia ’16, who chairs the committee, which comprises 11 voting members appointed by the U.A. and the four constituent assemblies. A majority is needed to pass an amendment on to the U.A.

“I trust Matt Battaglia … to run an efficient process, an impartial process, a just process, and make sure that any recommendations that come out of the [Codes and Judicial] Committee are fully thought through and are complete,” Kaufman told The Sun.

Kaufman said he thought the committee would “definitely” provide an opportunity, in some fashion, for the public to comment on its ongoing work as it progresses this semester.

Raymond Schlather J.D. ’76, who is representing Greenwood, said in an email that his client “was in no way involved in any physical altercation of any kind” and did not commit a crime.

  • Abe ’14

    HATE SPEECH IS FREE SPEECH. This has already been defined. Idiots.

    • Phil Weston

      What are you freaking protesting? Get to class. The perpetrator was arrested and is still being investigated. The university is not protecting him. If you did not want to go to a school with a bunch of pompous, prep school graduates you probably should have taken the tour before you enrolled.

  • John Blutarsky

    Actually, hate speech is free speech.

    Most (of us) agree that it is offensive and wrong BUT that does not mean we should restrict it. There is something very wrong when so many students believe that people should not be allowed to say things that are offensive to them. They are NOT entitled to a safe space sanitized world. It is time to grow up!

    “Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote separately, also for four justices, but on this point the opinions agreed:
    A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an “egregious form of content discrimination,” which is “presumptively unconstitutional.” … A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.”

  • Pamela Clarke

    I am a Cornell alumna, and it breaks my heart to read these comments challenging the legitimate concerns raised by these students about the campus environment. Free speech is a right, but no person’s right to express themself should deny the humanity of another, or challenge another person’s right to exist and enjoy their life.

    These students are legitimately fearful, and they shouldn’t be forced to feel that way. I expect the university to act quickly and decisively to implement a comprehensive program to make the university a place where ANY person can truly pursue any study free of fear and harassment.