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Sharing My Voice on the Free Speech Speaker

Lily Connors, Editor

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Nadine Strossen’s presentation at assembly on April 4, centered around the promotion and protection of free speech, lacked the organization and empathy to effectively communicate a progressive message. Strossen argued that any censorship to hate speech was a slippery slope. Censoring any speech gives the government further power to continue to erode citizen’s protections under the first amendment. She also highlighted the difficulty in defining and isolating hate speech from other forms of protected speech, such as protests.

Unfortunately, her presentation lacked slides or any form of visual aid, making her argument difficult to follow. With title slides her larger argument would have been more comprehensible, and the evidence she chose to support more impactful. In addition to lacking slides, she spoke without notes, often leaving the audience behind in a set of long-winded sentences. At times I wasn’t sure where certain sentences had began or where they were potentially going to finish. Without proper organization, both her message and its impact were lost in the midst of seemingly meaningless tangents and long-winded explanations.

Nadine Strossen effectively reminded the audience that the difference between an authoritarian government and a successful democracy is transparency through free speech. By allowing hate speech to exist, it ensures that other forms of speech can continue to exist as well without significant government censorship. Strossen failed to reconcile with the immense pain and psychological harm that hate speech can cause and emulate. While it may be correct that even allowing the government to censor hate speech can lead to censoring other forms of speech, it glosses over the caliber to which hate speech exists in this country, and the number of people it affects. She used the example of how some racial and homophobic slurs have been reclaimed by communities and been used as a symbol of pride and power. Arguing that by censoring those words it would prevent groups from using the language to their advantage. Then she listed three homophobic slurs to prove her point. The power of slurs can be devastating. Their sole purpose is to degrade and marginalize those they are aimed at. When Strossen, a well-educated white and straight woman, used homophobic slurs in front of a widely diverse student body, she made it seem as though those terms were acceptable to be used by all. Communicating a message drenched in ignorance and privilege.

When questioned about the appropriate response to hate speech, Nadine Strossen placed the responsibility of educating the ignorant on the individual. She emphasized the task we are each placed with, to help change the way society speaks in response to issues of hate and inequity. Her message was well-intentioned, but overly simplistic. The reality is that those who are most likely to speak up are those already marginalized, those who are the recipients of the hate. To place the responsibility of reeducation on those already fighting, on top of asking them not to react to hate, is failing to acknowledge the responsibility that the privileged have. For the privileged have the choice to stay quiet while many others are forced to be the mouthpiece for entire groups and movements. Her rambling speech failed to allot time for us as audience members to reflect on the words we choose and their impact.

Outside of the core of her argument and organizational choices, Nadine Strossen’s word choice occasionally distracted the audience from her words. Alongside her choice to include a number of homophobic slurs in her speech, she compared her work to that of a soldier, fighting for liberty for the citizens of the United States. While I understand the basis of the statement, comparing making speeches to risking your life daily is not quite the same. Not only was the validity of the statement questionable, much like the use of homophobic slurs, it alienated a number of audience members. Those angered by such statements most likely tuned out the rest of the presentation, and she lost credibility while her arguments lost legitimacy.

The most shocking result of the assembly was that once the assembly concluded, we as a community did not address the points she brought up in the following morning meetings or through some form of survey. I did not talk about the assembly in the subsequent classes or in the following week. Those who had strong feelings in response did not have an outlet to debate or work through her statements to cultivate a better understanding. Responses ranged from anger to apathy, but a discussion in how her statements apply and affect our community were noticeably absent.

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Sharing My Voice on the Free Speech Speaker