Hofstra students demand “zero tolerance for hate speech”

Hofstra University is a private school on Long Island with about 5,000 undergraduates.  As a private school, it’s not legally obliged to follow the First Amendment by permitting free speech on campus.  The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has rated 450 colleges and universities for their adherence to Constitutional protections, doesn’t list Hofstra. But if the new demands put forth by black student organizations below are met by Hofstra, it will clearly get a “red light” (worst) rating from FIRE, for those demands include suppression of free speech in the name of censoring and punishing “hate speech”.

The list of 13 demands, which you can read here, were put together by nine largely black student organizations, including the local chapter of the NAACP, and sent to the Hofstra administration on August 2. You can read about them by clicking on the recent article in the student newspaper, the Hofstra Chronicle, below:

Whenever I read one of these reports and then look at the demands, I always try to see which demands seem reasonable—or at least based on policies or actions that bear investigating—which demands seem dubious, and which demands seem insupportable. It’s always a mixture. And so it is in this case. I start with the insupportable demands because those are the most dangerous ones, calling for restrictions on free speech. I’ll quote below directly from the list of demands made by the students, putting them into the three groups.

In the following I’ve indented excerpts from the students’ letter.

INSUPPORTABLE DEMANDS

No free speech

We demand the creation of a Zero Tolerance Hate Speech Policy.

I. In an effort to minimize the verbal attacks on Black students, we are asking Hofstra to establish a clear zero tolerance policy for Hate Speech which will hold all students, educators, faculty, staff and administrators accountable.

II. In the new policy, Hate Speech will be defined as: speech that is intended to cause harm, offends/ insults or encourages violence, towards an individual or group on the bases of race, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, social or economic class, disability or other protected traits.

III. Students, staff, administrators, educators and faculty accused of hate speech should be investigated and reprimanded.

A. Students accused of hate speech will undergo an investigation handled by the Dean of Student Offices.

1. Students will face punishment based on the severity of their infringement. Punishments can include: fines, academic probation, suspension from club and sport activities and expulsion.

B. Educators or faculty accused of hate speech will undergo an investigation in accordance with Title IX.

1. Educators or faculty and non-academic faculty/staff will face punishment depending on the severity of their infringement: A record of offenses will be made public for educators and faculty that perpetuate hate speech, non-tenure educators and faculty will be at risk of losing their jobs and tenure educators and faculty will lose their tenure status and could lose their jobs.

IV. In addition to the zero tolerance Hate Speech policy, we are asking that end of semester evaluations include a section that allows students to speak freely about racism in classrooms. Educators accused of racism on end of semester evaluations must be investigated.

Note how “hate speech” is defined as more than speech that encourages violence, but can also be speech that “is intended to cause harm” or “offends/insults” people on the basis of a number of categories of “protected traits”, whatever they are. This prohibition is clearly in violation of the First Amendment unless a speaker encourages “imminent and predictable violence”.  Also, “harm” is ambiguous here, as these days it’s defined as “hurt feelings.” And anyway, mental harm does not count under the First Amendment. Discussions of affirmative action, treatment of transsexual people, religious tenets, and so on could clearly fall into the prohibited class of “hate speech”.

Note as well that anybody accused of hate speech will face a kangaroo court, including a public record for faculty, who could lose tenure or their jobs. Students could be suspended—all this for speech that is constitutionally allowed. Hofstra University can of course do whatever it wants about free speech given that it’s a private school, but restricting speech creates a chilling climate for discussion. (The University of Chicago is also a private school, but adheres strictly to First Amendment principles. We have no “hate speech” code, and, Ceiling Cat willing, we never will.)

Amnesty for demonstrators

We demand amnesty for demonstrations.

I. In an effort to encourage activism and minimize repercussions, Black students are asking for amnesty for future on-campus demonstrations. We want students to feel as though they have the right to fight against racism and oppression

without fear of punishment.

II. Furthermore, the amnesty will cover Black organizations and their leaders who unified to fight against racism on campus.

This apparently means that no matter what kind of demonstration takes place, even if it’s violent or involves deplatforming or canceling a speaker (offenses that at my school are actionable) will not be punished—but only for black students. That’s probably illegal since it involves differential treatment of people by race. But at any rate preserving free speech means sanctioning those who violate others’ free speech, and this is insupportable. Violations of other people’s freedom of speech and inquiry cannot be subject to amnesty for black students.

Mandatory racism seminars during Welcome Week and “mandatory “Race(ism) in the US” or RUS distribution courses.

I won’t describe these, but they are clearly indoctrination meant to foist a certain ideological viewpoint (Critical Race Theory) on the students. Note that there are no mandatory “free speech seminars” during Welcome Week.

Segregated learning and living spaces.  

These are intended to allow black students to “feel safe” and not be “under the eye of white students”. I have no objection to Black Student Centers, but I do object to exclusively black student centers and I vehemently object to the “residential community” demanded for “Black and racial minority identifying students”. This is segregation, pure and simple. Now if students want to have an elective system in which they get to live with preferred roommates, as is the case some schools, and that leads to de facto segregation by room suites, that’s fine, but I don’t think that entire areas or dorm spaces should be designated for any race.

DUBIOUS DEMANDS

Public Safety be held accountable for racism.

Public Safety (which appears to be the Hofstra campus cops, which have uniformed officers) is said to be guilty of racism. The demand is to form an oversight committee that is diverse and contains black students and faculty. It is possible that the Hofstra cops have been guilty of racist acts, so the demand can’t be dismissed outright. But based on such accusations elsewhere, like Chicago and Williams College, I doubt the accusation.

Diverse food options. 

Hofstra University tries its best to provide an array of food options for its students, for which we are grateful. As Black students, we request for there to be more cultural options on the menu pertaining to soul food, Caribbean food and African food. We are more than willing to collaborate with Compass and the administration to help broaden food choices to better accommodate Black students and our culture.

Leaving aside that the “culture” of African Americans probably doesn’t include much Caribbean or African food, this demand is even more applicable to students whose culture is more imbued with a certain cuisine, like Asian students. If Hofstra does this for the black students, it must also do it for other groups who have even better justified requests.

There’s a separate demand to allow catering of cultural events by outside caterers instead of the mandated University Caterers, who probably do a lousy job with ethnic cuisines. I have no issue with that demand.

The removal of the Thomas Jefferson statue.

This is on the basis of the significance of Thomas Jefferson in “the history of enslavement of Black people.” Now Jefferson has no connection with Hofstra, making this demand a bit more supportable, but in general I’m opposed to statue removal on the grounds that it effaces history, particularly when the statue was erected, as is surely the case here, to honor Jefferson’s accomplishments, not his slaveholding or relationship with Sally Hemings.

 

DEMANDS WORTH CONSIDERING

Diversity amongst our professors. 

The students want to hire more black professors. This is worth considering if the representation of blacks (and other minorities) is very low on campus AND is due to racism in hiring, not to a shortage of viable candidates in the face of vigorous efforts to recruit minority faculty.

Black history must be taught in American history courses.

This may be worth considering if black history is given short shrift in those courses.

A revamp of the African Studies major.

The students say that only three courses are available for this major in the fall semester. If that’s the case, and there is a major (it’s not clear from the letter, which says “the Hofstra bulletin states there is a possibility of obtaining an African Studies degree”), then yes, they need to have a look at how to implement that major.

Support for Black mental health

Although the racial disparity in psychology may be somewhat exaggerated (“As Black people in the United States, we experience life very differently than our white and even non-black POC counterparts”), it is possible that having a black counselor in the Student Health and Counseling Center would provide more psychological support for black students than counselors of other races, if only because one is more willing to open up to somebody of one’s ethnic group. So I think this demand is worth considering.

 

But I do draw the line at those demands that restrict First Amendment style free speech, for segregated living spaces and places to congregate, for amnesty for those black students who break college rules during demonstrations, and for demands that everybody be indoctrinated with Critical Racism Theory.

 

 

36 Comments

  1. Posted August 21, 2020 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    “Black history must be taught in American history courses”
    I strongly agree with this. Black history IS our history. I learned a sugar-coated version of white history in school. In recent years, I began looking into black history and found many things both interesting and disturbing. By separating black history from white history we lose out on learning lessons from our past. We need to include ALL history of our country – black, indigenous people, latino, etc – without the sugar coating that always makes the white race look righteous.

    • eric grobler
      Posted August 21, 2020 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      “without the sugar coating that always makes the white race look righteous.”

      Are Germans part of the “white race”? Holocaust not taught?

      • Posted August 21, 2020 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        I’m referring to US History, not events that happened in other parts of the world. We (whites) are far too often portrayed as ‘the good guys’ while others are portrayed as savages, inferior, criminal, etc.

        • eric grobler
          Posted August 21, 2020 at 11:34 am | Permalink

          I am not a US citizen so I do not know what the tone of your text books are since the 1960’s

          Are you asserting that US history books portray the “white race” as good and the “black race” as savages?

          They do not teach US children about the barbaric slave trade?

          • eric
            Posted August 21, 2020 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

            In the U.S., each state and in some states each county decides for itself what textbooks to use. The state of Texas uses a single, uniform set of textbooks for all it’s high schools, which makes it the single largest secondary school textbook “customer” in the nation (California would be bigger, but they let different districts decide for themselves what to use).

            Because of this, U.S. textbook writers typically write books that they hope the Texas state board of education will buy. Which means books that tell a conservative, Texas-positive and South-positive view of U.S. history. And since the number of competing history textbooks aimed at high schoolers is limited, that means that many other states and districts outside of Texas end up using those same books.

            This is not to say all U.S. history textbooks are skewed that way, but yes, a lot of them are. Of course they mention the civil war. Of course they mention segregation, the civil rights movement, etc. But they tend to understate, omit, or minimize the mistreatment of minorities by whites throughout our history. For example, you’ll find last stand of the Alamo in pretty much every textbook. What you won’t find is an explanation that the Texas revolution happened because Texans wanted to keep slaves and the Mexican government (who owned it at the time) wouldn’t let them. That, for example, after those noble Texan freedom fighters at the Alamo were all killed, the Mexican army entered it and freed their slaves.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted August 21, 2020 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

              This also accounts for why Texas school books have been at the heart of the creationist controversy.

            • eric grobler
              Posted August 21, 2020 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

              Thanks for your very informative post. I did not realize how fragmented education is.

              Now I understand a bit better where Irena is coming from.

              Can it be that because there was a European/white history bias that liberals are understandably pushing for a new narrative but radical types are hijacking this to push for a weird reverse form of racism with an alternative revisionist history.

              Not teaching children a common inclusive history where everyone can be proud Americans is very dangerous.

              I agree with Irena:
              “We need to include ALL history of our country”
              But it seems that everything is presented through the lens of race which is the opposite of MLK vision.

              • eric
                Posted August 21, 2020 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

                The problem has been known for decades, and in fairness I think a lot of historians have been trying to fix it for a long time. The problem isn’t lack of knowledge about history amongst textbook writers, the problem is economic (skew sells; truth, less so).

        • eric grobler
          Posted August 21, 2020 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          “We need to include ALL history of our country”

          B.t.w. I agree with your sentiments but you seem (like most people) to use woke rhetoric uncritically.

          Ironically just 10 years ago, referring to yourself as part of the “white race” would have sounded like white supremacist theology.

    • Max Blancke
      Posted August 21, 2020 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      I bet someone here is familiar with the texts used in college-level introductory American history. When I was a student, slavery was certainly discussed, as well as the abolition and the civil rights movements and the important people involved. I would be shocked if current classes put less emphasis on Black history than they did decades ago.

      What I suspect they want is for the version of African-American history taught in the “studies” classes to be taught in the mainstream courses. That would be a terrible idea, as a large part of what is being taught there is not historically accurate. One example is the very commonly held belief that “Policing itself started out as slave patrols”. Further along in the spectrum is the belief that the Olmec civilization was an African colony in the Americas. In between are lots of half-truths and falsehoods created to further a desired narrative.

      But importantly, it is not history, in the sense of studying events as they occurred, the actions of people involved, and the motivations of those people at the time.

      • eric grobler
        Posted August 21, 2020 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        “Further along in the spectrum is the belief that the Olmec civilization was an African colony in the Americas.”

        Interesting, that is news to me!

      • Roo
        Posted August 21, 2020 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

        My personal experience, which of course only applies to my particular schooling:

        – There was a great deal of focus on slavery in the US and related atrocities, and the Civil Rights movement. This included not only history but watching films such as Roots, reading books such as Beloved or The Bluest Eye, and writing essays about personal experiences with racism. It was a very big focus.

        – The rest of the world… wait what? What rest of the world? Ok, well, if we have to teach about them… there was… uh…ancient Sumer… um… then… papyrus was invented or something. Ok, um, then, something about written language and the Rosetta Stone. Ancient Egypt was this cool place, also ancient Rome. Let’s do some fun projects involving those, because they lend themselves nicely to fun projects. World Wars I and II happened. Oh, yikes, out of time, school year is over no time for more the end. Oh yeah also Columbus was great, hooray, ok now the end.

        – College was a mess of trying to cram whatever “Cluster” courses that you didn’t want to take anyways (if you were me, because you were essentially there to learn a specific vocation, not get an old fashioned “going to University to become generally Learned” sort of education) and that fit your schedule. Because the classes you really needed went to the top of your priority list when scheduling, and because most classes filled up and closed quickly, that meant that the classes you took just for the sake of fulfilling a Cluster requirement were usually some bizarre, obscure thing that happened to still have open seats, fit into the one slot you had open in your schedule, and fulfill a Cluster requirement. Agrarian practices in Medieval Europe or some such thing. I don’t think I ever took a world history class past high school.

  2. bill
    Posted August 21, 2020 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    “This prohibition is clearly in violation of the First Amendment unless a speaker encourages “imminent and predictable violence”.”

    not sure how a private school violates an amendment which doesn’t apply to private schools.

    • Posted August 21, 2020 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      I thought I made clear what my point was, but let me reiterate it. This policy does violate the First Amendment even though Hofstra doesn’t have to abide by it. But my point is that all schools, public or private, should adhere to First Amendment principles, just as the University of Chicago does.

      • bill
        Posted August 21, 2020 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        perhaps i’m being pedantic; but ‘following first amendment principles’ seems to me to follow the principle that congress cannot limit freedom of expression.

        i’d agree that these rules violate the more general principles of free expression that people should be able to express themselves, as zimmer at chicago wrote.

        but i might draw a distinction between violating the first amendment and limiting speech by non-governmental players.

        • Posted August 21, 2020 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

          I might be on thin ice here, but I had thought that its a matter of established practice. A good tradition. It is considered normative and salutary to enshrine free speech policies among non-government actors as if they were representing the government. A non-governmental actor who moves to prevent free speech is seen as crossing a line, even though it is technically still legal. I may be wrong here.

  3. eric
    Posted August 21, 2020 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    The ‘segregated living spaces’ demand reminds me of the ‘when wokes and racists actually agree’ you tube video. What a strange place we’ve come to.

    As for the food request, I suspect Hofstra’s limited menu is more a matter of economics than bias. I think the administration’s response could be something like “sure, we’re happy to add a wider variety of foods to the menu. For an extra $100/month surcharge to your room and board.”

    • Posted August 21, 2020 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      I’d love for there to be more diverse food on my campus, although, as a white person, I might not be allowed to eat it due to cultural appropriation.

  4. Posted August 21, 2020 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I honestly do not understand why they are advocating for segregated living and learning spaces. When laws mandating segregation by skin colour were abolished in South Africa it was considered a good thing and the people who campaigned against apartheid were lauded for their work. Do they really think segregation is going to go well for the black students?

  5. DrBrydon
    Posted August 21, 2020 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Zero tolerance policies are rarely a good idea, and never a good idea when paired with subjective assessment inherent in such ideas as hate speech. There is no justice to be had there.

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 21, 2020 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    We have always had to put up with the white privileged class so I guess we see the minorities with the same afflictions. Too bad, both are just spoiled children. When you demand your own speech police you are headed for another form of government.

  7. Posted August 21, 2020 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Surely no one should have a room mate in Covi19 Times? I hated sharing when I was 1st in Lunnon in a YMCA (ha! Atheists were allowed) – room mate was a Welsh optometry student & spoke Welsh in his sleep. What really got on my thrupenny bits was when he came back one night with a fat friend who jumped on my bed wrecking the cheap bit of crud…

    Sorry! Had a moment there!

    • eric
      Posted August 21, 2020 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      No one should, however pragmatically it’s going to be a rare school that can suddenly and temporarily double it’s living quarters so that students don’t have to share rooms. Some schools could rent out all the local hotels, I guess.

      Better just to do as much virtual as possible.

  8. Posted August 21, 2020 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Without meaning to, I react very badly to any notion of However, I’d also prefer that or shutting down freedom of speech. However, I’d also prefer that individuals learn to communicate openly with each other, rationally and with kindness. There is so much we could learn from each other if we didn’t stew in our own narrow belief systems.

    In re the study of history, I’m sure there’s much that can be done to improve it. However, we still won’t get consistency of the timeline and rationale for what’s happened, or the results. Within the last few days, I read yet again about a new history book being published that claims Lincoln was more concerned about economical inequities between
    the north and south than he was the issue of slavery. Many diverse causes have been attributed to the Civil War. Which of them or how many of them together are valid?

    My memory of campus food was high carb, very low (nonexistent) gourmet. I don’t imagine that has changed. The only place I know that it may be different is when there is a chef’s program on campus and the cooking is done by them.

    Maybe this is the beginning of a return to the time in history when students determined what was taught and who taught it at a university. Now, they need to figure out how they’re going to pay entirely for such a self-centered university experience.

    • AlTazim
      Posted August 21, 2020 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      On your first paragraph, this gets to an overlooked issue: are universities job training programs, or are they institutions of education more generally? If they’re the former, then tolerance for strong disagreement, rudeness, and incivility between members of the community (or communities) would be very low. You can’t have people being unhappy, and they’re paying to get the diploma, why should they have to put up with stresses from other students?

      But if they’re educational institutions, especially ones serving teenagers coming from all varieties of social, educational, and economic backgrounds, then there will be severe cultural clashes between them, often expressed in to ways which at least one group will find ugly. And ideally the students grow to understand each other as they move through the system. This requires, though, that no one group holds an epistemic veto over what is and isn’t offensive or hateful, though. Either that or they just keep away from each other entirely and ignore each other’s insults, which is what happened at my school: the hippie-ish, alternative kids had their social circles, events, and venues (theaters and coffee shops), the frat party kids, often wealthier, had their scenes, and never the twain did meet.

  9. Joe Dickinson
    Posted August 21, 2020 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    For me, the definition of hate speech that includes “offends/insults” some group is the deal breaker. “Offends” is an awfully subjective and slippery criterion. Indeed, I would be offended by the students’ demands in this case.

  10. AlTazim
    Posted August 21, 2020 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    On the mental health professional-matching race issue, I’ve heard this repeatedly for 15 years now, that members of minority groups open up better to someone who is of the same minority group. There’s probably truth to it, although since it depends entirely on self-reports, it’s necessarily anecdata. It’s usually also true of women: they feel more comfortable opening up to another woman (and realistically, a lot of men feel more comfortable opening up to a woman too). But there’s no shortage of female mental health professionals. The problem with conceding to this demand, though, is the precedent it sets: then every other minority group will demand their own designated MHP. Not only that, but black students will prefer the black MHP, Latino students the Latino MHP, etc, and each of these people will be overburdened (well, more than university MHPs already are), and there will be calls to hire more members of each group to meet the demand. Other staff may be fired, and/or see their pay docked, and/or everyone’s pay is docked, and/or the mental health services administration’s budget balloons. At some point, especially when it’s not a purely private transaction given that these university mental health departments (private or public) are heavily subsidized, you have to balance what is best for the client and their preferences with the rest of the university community and financial viability. This is a demand on which it is important to hold the line and not set a bad cascading precedent.

  11. Chewy
    Posted August 21, 2020 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I never made it past the first Roman numeral. Unacceptable historical imperialism or something.

  12. Posted August 21, 2020 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Hofstra’s motto is “I stand steadfast.”

    We’ll see.

  13. Taz
    Posted August 21, 2020 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    In an effort to minimize the verbal attacks on Black students

    I’m skeptical as to how many verbal attacks on black students occur at an affluent, private university on Long Island.

  14. Oliver S.
    Posted August 21, 2020 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    “The demand is to form an oversight committee…”

    Whenever I read these POCSOT (* demands I cannot help thinking of the theocratic Guardian Council in Iran. (* POstmodern Critical SOcial Theory)

  15. Jon Gallant
    Posted August 21, 2020 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    The utopia the students demand is one in which anyone who feels “offended” by an
    utterance could subject the speaker to a kangaroo court. Humor will unquestionably be outlawed in this utopia, and everyone, to be on the safe side, will confine their every utterance to the approved clichés.

    No matter how often we point out that liberté, egalité, et fraternité are not the same thing as conformité, this conflation keeps coming back, over and over. I regret to have to note that the line from “Progressive” goals to the thought-police so evident between 1917 and 1989 ought to be kept constantly in mind.

  16. pablo
    Posted August 21, 2020 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    I definitely favor black history courses but also worry that what they’re really talking about is Afro-centtic pseudohistory, such as: Ancient Egyptians were black and had advanced technology but were inexplicably overthrown by primitive white people who claimed Egyptian knowledge for their own. The ancient Hebrews were black and were usurped by Europeans who stole their identity, etc…

    • pablo
      Posted August 21, 2020 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      Doing a cursory Google search brought up a change.org petition from the Chicano Student Association of UNM to stop a class from teaching that Olmecs were actually Africans.


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