The editors of The Georgetown Academy complain that some person or persons on Nov. 3 “stole” from the freshman residence hall about a 1,000 copies of their May 2002 issue (all were remaining copies of last year’s final issue, which TGA staffers chose to circulate once again). The copies taken were shortly afterward placed in a sealed box and left in or near the office of Martha Swanson, the director of Student Organizations.

In that box was a note saying that those TGAs had been “sequestered” to give the university time to determine whether pages four and five of that May 2002 issue violated Georgetown University’s “speech and expression policy.” Those two pages contained attacks on several individually named students who had taken stands that TGA opposes and mocked them with epithets based on their surnames or on their ethnicity and appearances (e.g., “Alex Sanspenis,”Chris Genderless” and “… La Gordita (which is Spanish for … “the fatty”).

Vice President for Student Affairs Juan C. Gonzalez responded to the TGA complaint by saying that Georgetown has a liberal speech policy that encourages engagement and debate. If someone disagrees with expressed opinion on campus, the solution is to “drown it with more speech of your own making, not steal it,” Gonzalez said (“Missing Copies of The Academy returned,” Nov. 7, 2002, the Georgetown Voice).

Georgetown’s official policy on free speech, however, also states, “expression that is indecent or is grossly obscene or grossly offensive on matters such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation is inappropriate in a university community and the university will act as it deems appropriate to educate students violating this principle.”

The university’s Free Speech Committee, composed of four faculty members and four undergraduate students, plans to soon submit a formal letter of advice regarding this incident to Gonzalez.

This is long past due. The university needs to address this whole issue of “offensive” speech. And it is time to jettison the platitude that “bad speech” is only or best corrected just by “more speech,” and not by “censorship” or, in the worst cases, just by “education.” That non-policy was never more than an evasion by the university of its responsibilities.

Personal vilification, slurs and the like have no place at a Catholic university and they are clearly not correctable by just “more speech” or by “education.”

Let me give to Gonzalez and the “Free Speech Committee” two examples of the kind of “discourse” that Georgetown’s current approach only invites. Let these two examples convince them that there is indeed some “speech” that simply ought not to be tolerated on a Catholic campus, and that the solution to such speech requires something other than just “more speech” or “education.” These examples concern real Georgetown students and, as things stand now, fliers or articles containing slurs like these examples below might pass muster appear as “protected” speech?

Case A. A senior, named X, had cancer three years ago, necessitating that his testicles be surgically removed. He’s active in GUSA campaigns and controversies. His opponents are contemplating a broadside such as: “We always knew that X is a coward when up against the administration. Now we know why. He has no balls. They were removed several years ago at — hospital.”

Case B. A junior, named Y, has had an eating disorder since high school and a mother who has been in and out of psychiatric institutions. She’s active with the Georgetown Women’s Center, where she speaks up on such issues as sexual assault. Her critics come up with something like this: “Y only wishes that some guy would ever flirt with her. In your dreams, fatso. You’re as crazy as your mother ever was.”

In both cases, there’s nothing false about the alleged surgery, eating disorder or history of psychiatric care.

I’d like to hear from the Georgetown administration how “more” speech could ever undo the damage of the dissemination of such “bad” speech.

Like it or not, this university has a duty to do what it can to prevent the dissemination on its property of personal slurs.

Of course, that is often not easy. And, of course, different kinds of “bad” speech call for different kinds of university responses. But the mindless repetition of that ridiculous mantra “bad speech is to be corrected by more speech” is an insult to everyone’s intelligence.

Terrence J. Boyle is a 1963 graduate of the School of Foreign Service and a 1972 graduate of Georgetown Law Center.

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