Editorial: Where do we draw the line?

To some members of the University community’s dismay and to others’ delight, conservative journalist and self-described muckraker Milo Yiannopoulos spoke at the University on Feb. 25, after much debate about the content of his speaking engagements.

The repercussions of Yiannopoulos’ presence on campus were felt in the University community even before his arrival. The responses of students of different political affiliations brought a topic to the forefront of discussion at the University: free speech.

Specifically, what are the limitations of free speech, and consequently, where is the line drawn between free speech and hate speech?

Yiannopoulos is admittedly controversial. His line of merchandise includes T-shirts emblazoned with the phrases such as “feminism is cancer” and “The Dangerous Faggot Tour,” while his Twitter biography states that he is a “professional mansplainer.” He was brought to the University by the Bucknell University Conservatives Club, Bucknell College Republicans and Young Americans for Liberty. Posters advertised the event around campus, although, according to a YouTube video posted by Tom Ciccotta ’17, many were torn down, presumably as a form of protest.

In the days before Yiannopoulos’ talk, petitions to boycott the event circulated social media, and Associate Provost for Diversity Bridget Newell sent an email to students in response to the controversy surrounding Yiannopoulos’ arrival.

The idea of being politically correct has been a frequently disputed issue, especially in the university setting. Much debate has arisen regarding trigger warnings and the potential oversensitivity of millennials. Yiannopoulos is clearly far from anyone’s idea of political correctness, but does that mean that the University should censor his opinions?

Newell referenced the University’s Diversity Statement, noting the school policy that “affirms that diverse experiences and perspectives in the classroom and across campus enhance everyone’s educational experience.” Although the University has made it clear that Yiannopoulos’ views are completely his own, students have expressed concerns about the administration’s agenda in terms of which speakers are brought to campus. In reality, according to Ethan Wise ’16, President of the Bucknell University Conservatives Club, Yiannopoulos did not charge a speaking fee so the student activities fee was not responsible for bringing him to campus.

In her email to students, Newell explained that students were to use the uphill ELC lawn as a designated protest area to express their opposition to Yiannopoulos’ talk. While a protest has the chance to voice students’ concerns in an organized and productive manner, vandalizing posters appears to be counterproductive. If students advocating for the recognition of hate speech want to be taken seriously, then they must also respect the first amendment right of free speech. So where do we draw the line between free speech and hate speech? It’s hard to define. It’s important to be aware of your rights. Read the University’s Notice of Nondiscrimination. Familiarize yourself with the University’s Bias Incident Policy. And if you want to express your views publicly, which you have every right to do, write a Letter to the Editor to The Bucknellian.


Correction:  A previous version of this article stated that Young America’s Foundation was a cosponsor of the event, although that is not the case.  Additionally, it should be noted that Yiannopoulos did not charge a speaking fee.  

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