By: Marley Weaver-Gabel, Editor in Chief
On Wednesday, November 14, Romero House welcomed students and friends into their home for a hospitality night titled Freedom of Speech, Hate Speech & Crimes. Dr. Rob Margesson joined the group as the guest speaker for the evening to guide discussion and provoke thought and commentary throughout the night.
The night started out with a delicious meal of traditional ethiopian cuisine, cooked by three of the Romero House residents. As guests arrived in pairs or alone, friends greeted each other and sat together to share a meal. After getting hands deep into spicy lentils and well prepared potatoes, the group of roughly 15 students hushed themselves and started discussion.
Dr. Margesson started the discussion by sharing the theory of the marketplace of ideas, which proposes that the only way to understand the truth and the good, we must come into confrontation with the false and the bad. This theory also explains that in order to engage in critical inquiry, we must have access to an abundance of ideas, including those which we may find wholly repugnant. So if we believe in this marketplace of ideas, does hate speech aid in the search for truth?
This was the question that students engaged in throughout the night with thoughtful commentary and inquiry. In discussion, the conversation touched on topics regarding the meaning of truth, the role of the oppressed, and the invitation of hate speech on to college campuses.
“Truth is not only known, but it is felt too,” comments Veronica Postit. With this comment, students faced what the truth is and how it can be defined, either as subjective or objective. There is no clear cut answer of the truth, which is one of the reasons it becomes so important that we are participants in the marketplace of ideas. The free sharing of ideology creates a space to understand truths that can be subjective to each individual.
Through the evening, the conversation transitioned towards the question of obligation. Nick Aranda asks, “Who carries the obligation of understanding the others truth?” The question guided students to reflect about the roles of the oppressor fighting for their own humanity. If not the oppressed, than who will stand up? Does it then inherently become the marginalized to confront the oppressors? While this is a compelling argument, Isaiah Pramuk suggests, “It can really hurt us if we push too far into it.” In many ways, there is a certain level of self care that we must consider when confronting discrimination. Context matters and each person can only do their best, based on their abilities in the moment.
Another large theme addressed the invitation of hate speech into our spaces. Considering the marketplace of ideas, one could say that inviting hate speech into our spaces is a necessary evil to be able to confront those volatile ideologies. Students were hesitant to embrace this idea, instead cautioning that these ideas could become more polarizing and for those who are under informed, it could become their truth.
Leaving Romero House, I had more questions than I came with and more thoughts that I continue to organize. In this safe, comfortable space, with well educated and thoughtful young justice seekers, I found myself comforted by this community. This conversation did not address specific actions, nor did it address our multitude of grievances in response to the hate that has infiltrated our school. Instead, it brought together truth seekers and gave us a space to not react with hate, but react with thoughtfulness in the face of those statements we fundamentally disagree with. THIS is what it means to me to be part of a social justice university.