Ole Miss Students Respond to Racially Charged Speech with More Speech

By on November 13, 2012

In the wake of a racially charged protest last week, students at the University of Mississippi have responded by demonstrating exactly why the best way to counter speech one finds offensive is with more speech.

On election night, some students at Ole Miss gathered to protest the re-election of President Obama. What originally began as "30 or 40 students" protesting grew into a crowd of over 400 people, and news outlets reported that, in addition to campaign slogans and school chants, some protesters shouted racial slurs. Obviously, this news has disturbed a number of people, particularly given the university’s history of segregation. James Meredith, the first African-American student to attend Ole Miss 50 years ago, has called the protests "nonsense and foolishness."

Happily, cooler heads are prevailing in the wake of the protests, and more speech, not censorship, is winning the day. 

The university has condemned the protesters’ "uncivil language and shouted racial epithets" in a statement, and the Ole Miss student body itself has responded with speech of their own. The day after the controversial protest, students organized a candlelight walk to protest the events of election night. The group designated the walk "We Are One Mississippi," and it drew over 600 students—sizably more than the crowd they were speaking out against. According to students who attended, the group intended to stand in unity against speech they found ignorant, hateful, and harmful. 

Ole Miss Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) followed up on Friday with their semesterly "Banned Book Reading" on the porch of Bondurant Hall. This year, they chose All Quiet on the Western Front, to "promote peace, wisdom and liberty rather than hate, ignorance and civility." According to YAL secretary Lindsay Krout, "students found it really helpful to see responsible uses of free speech. It helped remind everyone, even (the YAL), that the answer to hate speech is always more uplifting speech."

These students at Ole Miss are the best example of how to respond to speech that offends. Rather than attempting to silence or punish those with whom they do not agree, they provided speech that they preferred. They did not need a school administrator to tell them what their values are or to silence those who disagree; they were fully capable of representing those values themselves in opposition to that which they disliked. Thus, Ole Miss has provided a robust marketplace of ideas, like the "green light" university it proudly is, and its students have shown themselves to be capable participants like the adults they are.

This is what a free academy looks like, and this is what universities should strive to achieve—not censorship. 

For more on how your school can achieve a green light rating, be sure to check out FIRE’s Guide to Free Speech on Campus for excellent guidance on students’ free speech rights, as well as Samantha Harris’ blog series on how schools can earn a green light rating. 

Schools: University of Mississippi