‘Teaching Students to Watch What They Say’

December 12, 2007

Check out FIRE Board of Advisors member Wendy Kaminer’s latest blog post over at The Free for All. In it she addresses what she views as a “remarkably unbalanced story on ‘ethnic tensions and racist attitudes’” on campus that recently ran in the Boston Globe:

What qualifies as racism on campus today? It includes “microaggressions” (in other words, slights) that are troubling precisely because they are “difficult to report,” as if people should be “reported” for giving offense. Boston College student, Irene Jeon says that she often hears fellow students exclaiming that the ethnic food she and her friends eat in their rooms “smells so bad.” Jeon feels threatened by these remarks partly because people can’t be punished for making them: “(Y)ou can’t call the police and say, ‘they’re complaining about my food,’” she acknowledges. “‘That’s why it’s so dangerous—there’s no legal recourse.’”

Wendy goes on to explain why civil libertarians need to be worried about the eroding understanding of (and appreciation for) civil liberties by the academy. The post is a must-read for anyone concerned about how minor discomforts and slights are used to justify the suppression of speech.