Jack Stein is a sophomore computer science and political science student from Madison, CT.
Welcome back to UConn politics! After three months of hibernation, the “UConn Statement” (a creative renaming of the Chicago statement) is back and as unsavory as ever.
When the UConn Statement was introduced back in February, it was met with fierce opposition. It was authored by then USG president Michael Hernandez, Isadore Johnson, John “Jay” Mosely, and John Ross. The bill was believed by many to be antithetical to the platform of inclusion and equality President Hernandez ran on. The controversy surrounding the bill’s introduction resulted in a USG vote of no confidence in Hernandez in late February and ultimately, the proposed legislation was withdrawn. Hernandez said in a statement to The Daily Campus, “this legislation is not spurring the type of productive conversation that we had hoped.”
Despite Hernandez’s acknowledgement of the inflammatory nature of discussions surrounding the UConn Statement, he and his co-writers stated they would be reintroducing the bill in an article by TheFire.org titled “UConn group to keep pursuing free speech initiative despite student government shutout, threatening messages”.
In the article, Isadore Johnson comments that in trying to pass the legislation the group recognized they weren’t “gonna really make much headway with student government.” This is to be expected when your proposition lacks constituent support. The petition for the UConn Statement had a mere 150 signatures out of an undergraduate student body of over 18 thousand. This has nothing to do with the USG being corrupt, it just has to do with how governments operate. Legislation is designed to meet the needs of the majority, and clearly the majority are disapproving of the UConn Statement. Furthermore, why would the USG want to pass legislation proposed by a former president in whom they have already established they have no confidence?
“The [writers] all described a stunning and seismic shift in the free speech climate at UConn. One that has so effectively presented ‘free speech’ as nothing more than a vehicle for ‘hate speech’ — like white supremacy, homophobia and transphobia, and more — that many UConn students who broadly support civil liberties are suddenly wary of doing so publicly for fear of being labeled a bigot.” Despite what the writers may believe, this legislation is not about free speech. It is about enabling derogatory and discriminatory statements in the name of free speech and discourse. Even if such statements lie in a “gray” area between hate speech and non-hate speech, they don’t promote a welcoming environment at UConn. Furthermore, This bill was introduced during a time of heightened discrimination at UConn (multiple anti-semitic and racist incidents.) While this may merely be coincidental timing, it suggests the writers of the statement are willing to accept such incidents as “free speech”.
In response to the introduction of the bill, Hernandez notes that opponents to the legislation, “were calling us racists, and misogynists, and homophobic. We got ISIS beheading videos sent to us. They were using slurs.” There is no excuse for this kind of hateful and threatening response to the bill’s authors. However, it should be noted that under the statement the writers proposed, such hateful words would likely fall under “free speech”. One example DM is included in the article. The proponent of the bill included in the DM says in his response that while he found the message “hateful” the person on the other side “has a right to say it”. That opinion would enable all hate speech without consequence and that is not an acceptable view for a welcoming diverse campus.
In the article John Ross states opponents to the UConn Statement: “just [say] ‘What’s the title? “Free speech?” Oh. That’s hate speech.” This is a ridiculously reductive statement. Surely there are some who make this false equivalency, but there are likely many more who recognize that this is a complex and sensitive issue and that we need to continue to make choices that promote a greater acceptance of a diverse student body.
In conclusion, there is no need for a reintroduction of the UConn Statement. It is unnecessarily divisive and lacks support or the evidentiary foundation of good legislation. Free speech, expression, and public discourse are already the norm and encouraged on our campus. Hate speech, on the other hand, should never be tolerated. The authors of the UConn statement should withdraw it once again before it adds more flame to the fire.