UC Santa Barbara recently held a meeting to allow students distressed by the newly created “UCSB White Student Union” Facebook page “to talk, get support, or express their feelings.”
The good news? Among the 30 or so students there who bemoaned its creation and decried it as racist, they ultimately learned that free speech trumps their hurt feelings.
The bad news? Comments voiced at the kvetching session shows that college students are still treated like preschoolers, and many sincerely don’t understand why they cannot control and silence speech that upsets them.
First, some background. In early December a Facebook page called the “UCSB White Student Union” was created to counter the spate of protests across the nation that allege universities are hotbeds of institutionalized racism.
The page prompted many UCSB students to condemn it as racist, “insensitive to the plight of minorities,” and so forth. The page got even more attention when it released a set of reparation demands that seemed to mock those made at Yale and Mizzou and dozens of other campuses across the nation.
Infuriated, some students contacted administrators asking them to get the page taken down. This led to administrators firing off a campuswide email Dec. 3 detailing the creation of a UCSB “Bias Response Team” and reminding students they can also already report “bias incidents” to the UC police department.
The very next day, Dec. 4, a campuswide email was sent condemning the UCSB White Student Union Facebook page as creating a “hostile climate” on campus and reminding distressed students of counseling services available to them. The email also prompted students to attend, if they so wished, a meeting to voice concerns about the Facebook page.
In the introductory remarks at the meeting, held Dec. 5, administrators revealed that they had attempted to determine the IP address of the person or people running the WSU Facebook page, but failed to do so. Some students in the room thanked officials for trying, while a handful expressed disappointment that the university would even attempt to track down those who created the page.
As the room swelled to about 30 students, a lengthy discussion was launched on how participants were to talk to one another (e.g. “how much time should each person speak?” “In what order?” etc.) and what topics were going to be covered. This useless endeavor lasted about 30 minutes. The group eventually formed into a big circle, akin to something seen on preschool playgrounds.
Students then took turns speaking. Most called the page offensive and expressed a desire to have it taken down. Many students suggested, in all seriousness, that UCSB administrators had an obligation to police and punish speech that offended minorities. A professor of “Chicana Studies” said something along the lines of “we have to remember there is no race–it’s all constructed–but there *is* racism.”
However, about four students voiced concerns about free speech, telling their peers no matter how offensive the page may be, neither UCSB nor its students should take steps to try to have it shut down. One student chimed in with: “If you find the page offensive, just click the red ‘x’ at the top right section of the webpage. That will solve all of your problems.”
The meeting concluded in a stalemate between students defending the page on free speech grounds and those decrying it as offensive. Eventually the realization hit the offended students: even if they felt the page was offensive, they did not have the right or power to shut it down.
“Free speech advocacy (especially with so many hostile people in the room) is hard,” said one student who stood up for the First Amendment at the meeting, “but rewarding.”