Letter to the Editor: EDUCATIONCATION, not censorship, nor punishment is the way to rebut racial idiocy and calumny


Dear President Katsouleas:

I write to take exception to your flagrant and errant attempt at censoring and punishing students who foolishly scream out the “N” word, including in situations when there is no intent or aim to harass or intimidate anyone. In short, we support the viewpoint of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, sent to you concerning the wrongful arrest of two UConn students for the mere use of that piercing and shallow racial epithet—an epithet not directed at any student or anyone else on the Storrs campus.

As we understand matters, the two students face criminal criminal charges as well as campus disciplinary proceedings for their uttering the vile term. In a free society, we don’t understand nor accept the penchant for censorship and punishment for “bad” words. Attempts at banning words, either in conversation or debate are futile and stupid. Moreover, neither the criminal sanction nor college disciplinary processes should ever punish much less suspend or expel any student for non-threatening speech–especially for words not directed at anyone, however “hateful” or jarring those words sound on the virgin ears. Banning such words is just the first step at censorship; next, you–and the folks who think like you, will maybe attempt to ban people who invoke “ugly” words to purify the educational setting.

The purpose of a college is to remove narrow constrictions of the mind, to extirpate racial and other prejudices, and to answer and counter stupidity. Banning words or those who use seemingly ugly words is a betrayal of your core purposes as an educational institution. The criminal sanction and/or disciplinary actions for vocal idiocy fly in the face of the educational mission. The use of racial epithets—as unsettling as such is in the ordinary course of life, and on the campus especially, is a time for critical examination and discussion, not for criminal retribution or punishment from campus tribunals.

While I understand the anguish some feel on hearing the vexing N word, even if and when it was not intended or directed at them or anyone else, if you open or allow campus-based tribunals to punish the mere uttering of the N word–where will such inquisitions and banishments of such talkers end? Will censors start tagging and prosecuting black students who use the N word in a casual or conversational or political manner, for example? Or who utter in their own fashion “whitey”? It is not the university’s role to police speech, or to punish anyone for expressing odious, “racist” or “sexist” or homophobic thoughts or jokes. If that were the standard for free expression, the University’s disciplinary bodies would be in operation full-time, if not ‘round-the-clock. On the campus, especially, we believe that students need to feel free to express their ideas, however odious they may seem or be to others.

Saying the “N word” in a free society is not yet against the law—particularly and especially not proscribed when it’s not directed at anyone or places any person in fear of bodily or imminent harm.To say that it is unlawful, and punishable, you will be preparing wallflowers, not critical much less free thinkers ?

Free speech in America—including social criticism, and even the use of vile words like the N word, “honky” and other racial/ethnic calumnies can be exasperating—but it cannot and must not be “banned”. I know about racial calumny. I am myself an African American and past Assistant Executive Director of the N.A.A.C.P. Thus, I know the history and social context of ‘hate” speech. I also know that such speech cannot be “banned”.You might as well start banning blacks who casually or purposefully use the “N’ word. It would be sheer folly for university officials to ban certain words that give ‘offense”. How do you teach in such a climate of censorship and conformity with fashion? It would offend human dignity and free inquiry and free expression—for UConn to start making examples of people—through the use of the criminal sanction—or through kangaroo-like campus judicial channels for using words that are “racially offensive”. I dare say that neither the comic Dick Gregory nor the scholar Randall Kennedy nor any civil rights figure or activist who prizes free speech could ever talk or teach there if you’re to ban the N word.

EDUCATIONCATION, not censorship, nor punishment is the way to rebut racial idiocy and calumny.

Michael Meyers


New York Civil Rights Coalition

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