Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee: University of Arizona Student Government’s Thanksgiving Double Standard Exposed

By November 24, 2010

The Freshman Class Council of the Associated Students of The University of Arizona (ASUA) sent out invitations to a "Pilgrim and Indian" Thanksgiving dinner recently, asking attendees to "break out those buckle hats and feathers" and come in costume. Why is this news? Because as Anna Swenson of the Student Free Press Association reports, this is precisely the kind of "stereotyping" that the ASUA has criticized and sought to punish in the past. As Swenson writes:

Yet in other instances, ASUA has been quite concerned with continuing "ignorant and offensive stereotypes." When the Daily Wildcat printed a comic many called racist, the then-ASUA Senate devoted an entire meeting to discussing the issue:

"It is very important that basically, the students voices are heard and there is a difference between hate speech and freedom of speech," said Sen. Jason Mighdoll. "Those two are clearly identifiable."

 

"What it comes down to at the end of the day is that our university thrives on the ability for students to live, learn and grow in an open and a welcoming environment," [President Tommy] Bruce said.

An event not so dissimilar from this weekend’s planned pilgrim-and-Indian gathering occurred in February 2007 when news of a ‘black’ theme party broke a few years ago on campus:

As the UA campus enters Black History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the history and progress of black people in America, a recent "black" party has given the UA community not a reason to celebrate but rather a reason for concern.

While many UA students condemned the party, the UA student who threw the party, agricultural education sophomore Kyle Kuechel, said the party was not intended to be offensive.

"In order to come, you had to dress as your favorite black person," Kuechel said. "Two people were dressed as lawyers, and two from ‘Family Matters.’"

An image posted on the social networking Web site Facebook shows partygoers dressed in do-rags and fur coats with black-painted faces.

Swenson points out that the problem lies not with the party, but with the double standard:

Given the nature of such issues, we should emphasize, in bold point, that we do not think this event, or anyone in FCC, is racist. We’ve got no problem with a ‘black party’, a white trash trailer bash, or a ‘guess-the-Slav’ gala, so long as the booze flows freely. One-upmanship in political correctness is a destructive cultural trend worthy of condemnation and open opposition.

What is revolting here is the hypocrisy. This organization, so concerned about explicating a difference between "free speech" and "hate speech" that does not, and never has, existed in this country, can toss such concerns to the (colors of the) wind when it comes to their own events. Just over two years ago, ASUA sought to force Wildcat staff to attend "cultural sensitivity" training for publishing a cartoon depiction of an actual event.

Pretty indefensible. We look forward to hearing the ASUA explain why "offensive" speech–as long as it’s the ASUA’s "offensive" speech–is permissible, when they deem similar expression by their peers worthy of punishment.

Schools: University of Arizona