Anthony D. Riker

In response to the request for reflection by University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., I would like to add a few thoughts surrounding the hate-related crimes that have occurred on campus in these recent months. In doing so, I realize that I may be dredging up something most people are tired of hearing about or rehashing an already tired issue. However, I feel that this is the right time for us to have an appropriate dialogue on this issue since tensions have calmed somewhat.

These series of hate-related incidents were very disheartening because they simply reflected the reality of the world in which we live. I think the greatest error in the way we dealt with these situations was seeing them as something that never happens or simply as an exception to some vague conception of ‘normal’ human behavior. My overall sentiments regarding the turn of events occurring after these numerous incidents brings to mind scenes from the great American classic novel, The Scarlet Letter.

The tension that I felt on campus during and after these events was not from the actual occurrence of these incidents. Instead, they came from the administration and a group of minority students who were so actively seizing on the momentum generated to try to instill some sense of political correctness by denouncing any form of “hate speech” and stating that not responding was acceptance of the incidents. Simply said, some reactions to the incidents went a bit too far and instead of dealing with the specific problem, it was further complicated by alienating a large group of students who had a different approach or way of thinking about these problems. In the midst of everything that was happening, rationality and “cool heads” seemed to be nonexistent. I happened to be one of the unfortunate victims living in Copley who was subjected to a mandatory meeting or assignment intended as a response to graffiti found on one of the posters in the dorm. What was a simple case of derogatory graffiti on a poster was put in the context of all the other hate-related incidents and blown out of proportion.

It is the responsibility of a university community such as Georgetown to allow an environment of free thought and contemplation that allows those within the community to feel comfortable to come out with their ideas and thoughts. The intent of allowing free speech is to allow for a variety of viewpoints and new ideas to emerge and eventually be tested by others in a public arena. The Georgetown ethos proudly exhibits a respect for the individual, but what has been lost upon us recently is that such respect entails allowing people to express their ideas and having their own unique viewpoints regardless of how ill-founded they may seem to the rest of us.

Part of freedom of expression is the right to critique the ideas of others. In the midst of such political correctness experienced after the series of hate-related events, such freedom of discourse was stifled. If we wish to have a strong academic community in both the present and the future, we must consider the virtue of free speech as paramount to any other consideration.

Anthony D. Riker is a senior in the College.

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