Following the assault of a black student in Collegetown on Friday,

Michael Wenye Li / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Following the assault of a black student in Collegetown on Friday,

September 17, 2017

Student Assembly Members Mull Hate Speech Ban Following Racially Charged Incidents

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In the wake of two racially-charged incidents, including one that sent a black Cornell student to the hospital on Friday, some members of the Student Assembly are considering a push to ban “hate speech” on campus.

Several S.A. members and other student leaders will meet on Sunday night to discuss, among other things, whether to forbid hate speech at the University, S.A. members told The Sun.

Assemblymembers Matt Indimine ’18 and Mayra Valadez ’18 have been working together to draft changes to the Campus Code of Conduct that would aim to curtail hate speech. Any addition to the Code regarding speech would need President Martha Pollack’s approval.

“It’s disgusting that hate speech like this is not followed up with repercussions,” Valadez said at a Sept. 7 meeting, referring to an incident where a Latino Living Center resident heard a fraternity member say “let’s build a wall around the LLC,” The Sun previously reported.

Varun Devatha ’19, S.A. executive vice president, wrote on Facebook that he supports the effort to amend the Code, but it is unclear where the push currently stands. Devatha, Indimine and Valadez have all been working behind-the-scenes to push an amendment to the Code, but no resolution has been drafted or presented to the S.A., nor has one been presented to the public.

S.A. members are hoping to get community input on Sunday at 8:15 p.m. in eHub, where some members will meet to discuss their approach to hate speech. The meeting is not officially a S.A. meeting, but rather one that assemblymember Joe Anderson ’20 described as part of a “community input phase.”

“In light of recent disgusting bias incidents involving white supremacy on our campus, and the ever-clear need for administrative change around hate speech/bullying, student leaders across campus are calling a meeting to discuss potential options for policy change,” reads a statement on the public Facebook page for the meeting, hosted by Indimine and Valadez.

Indimine said he and others are considering an attempt to curtail hate speech with an amendment to the Code, but that effort, which needs presidential approval, would likely be a long-shot given Pollack’s public comments regarding free speech.

Indimine and other members are considering additional options, such as an anti-hate-speech policy that S.A. would ask student organizations to adopt, he said. Valadez did not respond to a request for comment.

Some S.A. members who support the potential ban, but anticipate dissent, are trying to formulate a definition of forbidden “hate speech” that would be palatable to the University community. Devatha suggested that a subcommittee of the body tasked with reviewing proposed changes to the Code — the University Assembly’s Codes and Judicial Committee — or a task force could work on defining “hate speech.”

“That definition must be something that protects students, but is approved by the faculty/staff,” Devatha told The Sun in a message. “The administration could potentially use a poor definition to shut students down.”

But the S.A. does not have the power to amend the Code on its own, and its effort may run against principles of freedom of speech. Hateful speech is protected by the First Amendment, and students’ rights organizations, like the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, largely counsel against banning hateful speech.

“In order for speech to be truly free, speech that conveys deeply offensive messages, including hate, must be protected,” FIRE says on its website. “A free people have recourse to reason, evidence, outrage, and moral witness against such speech, but do not need to turn to coercive power to silence it.”

An effort to amend the Code to forbid hate speech was made 10 years ago, but it “soundly failed,” Prof. Kevin Clermont, law, a drafter of the Code, told The Sun. And rightly so, Clermont said.

Defining hate speech “introduces terrible line-drawing problems, and will lead to punishing speech not deserving of punishment and chilling worthwhile speech,” Clermont said. “It empowers the majority to suppress the minority.  Let the majority express its will by social pressure, not by legal means.”

Sarah Park ’20, the S.A.’s vice president of external affairs, is the only voting member of the U.A.’s Codes and Judicial Committee who also serves on the S.A. and said the committee has not received a resolution. The process is still in “super preliminary stages,” she said.

If the CJC passes an amendment to the Code, both the U.A. and President Pollack, who has pledged to defend free speech, would have to approve the amendment for it to go into effect.

  • Guy

    Let us know when there is a two way street. Hundreds of whites are murdered by blacks….no hate crime. One black is murdered by a white…HATE CRIME. Please can someone explain why race or sexual orientation should matter when it comes to murder? If you killed someone it is a CRIME! You killed them.
    Isn’t justice suppose to be the same for all…you know BLIND? Of course anyone killing ANYONE, threatening them, harming them…should be charged…regardless of the status of the victim.

    If I yell something hateful at a person…should it make a difference whether person is white, black, gay. a bernie voter or Trump voter.

    The only violence and intimidation I have seen on campuses has come from the left…and they use violence and destruction!

    It seems many on the left wish to define transgressions by who it is against….and not the transgression. You read bitter vile hate against the GOP, Whites, Cops, Men,….but somehow to people on the left…these aren’t transgressions because of who it is against.

    I think debate and exchange of ideas are needed. But somehow people on the left believe threats, riots, violence are fine….as long as it is against those they HATE.

    Why are the left so hateful?

    I full believe anyone Threatening, attacking, rioting, committing a crime…should be charged…makes no difference. You have can’t laws based on who the crime is against…that is ABSURD!

    The left want to use “hate speech” as a way to silence those the LEFT HATE! Personally I think there should be no hate speech rules…but if you threaten someone that is a crime. Usually people are their own worst enemy..when using hatred as their vehicle to verbally attack.

  • tsol

    “Latino Living Center”?!?

  • Happy Jack

    “Hate speech” is a violation of the 1st Amendment. Punish the crime, not the thought.

    • Bob

      Nope. Hate speech is protected by the 1st Amendment.

  • Jay Wind

    Prof. Kevin Clermont is absolutely correct, and the Campus Code of Conduct has never contained a hate speech provision since it was adopted in the 1970s. I am proud of the fact that Cornell did not fall into the trap that some other Universities have tripped over. If you believe in the free exchange of ideas and Cornell’s duty to study all viewpoints as an academic institution, you will come to value free speech and reject a “Hate Speech” provision as a very bad idea. The problem is that people will score political points by misusing the proposed speech code as an offensive weapon.

    For example, currently the MGLC organizations do not pay their fair share of the Tri-Council budget. Is raising the budget issue “hate speech”? If an PanHel leader called an MGLC leader a “freeloader” or a “deadbeat” during the discussion, would that be hate speech? Even if it were not, would the MGLC leaders file a “hate speech” complaint if the other Tri-Council members even discussed the issue at a joint meeting? The potential for political blackmail is boundless.

    A “hate crime” is something different and has passed Constitutional muster. If an underlying crime must be committed, such as punching a person. The hate crime statute, Section 485.10 of the NYS Penal Law, merely bumps up the sentence by one class because of the hate crime finding. Neither the New York nor Federal hate crime statute makes a non-crime such as speech a crime.

    We can only hope that everyone can see that a speech code can and most likely will be used as a club against anyone who questions the most extreme positions taken by self-defined “disadvantaged groups.” Because the Campus Code of Conduct applies equally to Cornell students, faculty, staff and administrators and there are no adverse consequences to making a unfounded complaint with the Judicial Administrator, any amendment to the Campus Code of Conduct will unleash a flood of complaints. Perhaps President Pollack and Vice President Lombardi will spend the rest of their careers explaining to the Judicial Administrator how denying demands from the LAL and BSU although perceived by those groups as hurtful was not a speech code violation.

  • Darrin

    Oh, and let’s burn some books while we are at it. I don’t like what you just said = HATE SPEECH. I don’t like your policies = HATE SPEECH, FASCISM. Build a wall, Make America Great Again = HATE SPEECH, NAZI. Just because a person doesn’t agree with another person’s views, they can’t just say, HATE SPEECH, RACIST, FASCIST, MISOGYNIST, etc These words no longer have meaning in todays society because they are thrown around so loosely and freely.

    The first amendment means that ppl can have their view and express them. If you don’t like it, don’t listen, walk away. OR, OOORRR. Interact like adults and see what it is about that person that makes her/him think that way. Without name calling or violence.

    If a fraternity wants to build a wall, and says ‘Let’s build a wall ‘ so be it. If an illegal alien or legal immigrant doesnt like it. I’m sorry, people get to say hateful things, Welcome to America. We have free speech. Don’t listen to it. Walk away.

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  • roccolore

    Mexican and black crybabies at it like always.

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