By Rebecca Chang ’19
I am angry. Angry and tired, in fact. Angry that people think that the section of the Honor Code that was put in place to protect marginalized groups on campus hinders free speech. Tired of having to explain why and how racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, sexism, classism, among many other -isms are still problems here at Haverford. Angry that I don’t feel safe on campus because of the microaggressions I have faced and the increasing hate crimes happening at other schools post-election. Tired from the weight of my own experiences and the experiences of other marginalized groups on campus that I shoulder everywhere I go no matter what time of day.
And that is why I am responding to a recent article by David King published in The Clerk.
In Spring 2015, a group of students came together to propose a resolution during Plenary that added the following text to the Social Honor Code: “We recognize that acts of discrimination and harassment, including, but not limited to, acts of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, discrimination based on religion or political ideology, and discrimination based on national origin or English capability are devoid of respect.” Although I was not a student here at that time, I have heard from those who were present at Plenary that much discussion ensued on both sides of the resolution, ending with its passage. Those opposing its addition, in fact, shared many of the same arguments that David brings up in his article about how it would violate free speech.
To those who think that this clause violates free speech, I implore you to consider the following points:
One, no one is saying that you don’t have free speech. Yes, these items of speech are “devoid of respect” here on campus, but there is nothing and no one stopping you from making those comments if you so wish. Your words might have consequences in the form of
of others approaching you to discuss what you said, but there is nothing legally or morally stopping you.
Two, incidents of racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, etc.. still exist on campus and it would be incredibly naive to say that the existence of this line in the Honor Code means that we live in a utopia where everyone’s identity is always welcome here. The addition of this line does not mean that Haverford has magically become devoid of microaggressions and even plain-out explicit aggressions that perpetuate grossly harmful discriminatory structures and ideologies. As a result, even if you think this line hinders free speech, the reality is that these acts still happen.
Third, even if you were to say or do something that falls under one of the items “devoid of respect” outlined in the Social Honor Code, there’s a good chance that you’re not actually the one hurt by your comment or action. What I mean is that the people who are actually hurt by your comment or action are people of color, queer folks, trans folk, sexual assault survivors, low-income folks, etc. who have their identities questioned and invalidated, who have to fight the constant battle of taking care of themselves but being continuously hurt, who are the actual ones who bravely summon the courage to confront you even though they were the ones emotionally hurt.
What you deem “free speech” comes at the expense of marginalized groups and people who undeservingly face microaggressions on a daily basis that question their identities from those who don’t realize the impact of their words or actions.
David closes his article by saying that as a community, we must “learn how to have a productive discourse with people whose values are extremely different than ours, without falling into the trap of anger and hostility.”
In closing I will respond with:
I am listening to you–I read through your article and can see where you are coming from–as a low-income and first-generation student of color who is in the minority here, I can relate to you in terms of feeling shut out in a place that claims to prioritize inclusivity so much.
But try to understand my perspective. Understand the perspective of marginalized people on campus who find their identities validated by this line of the Honor Code. Understand why I’m so angry and tired, why my emotion shouldn’t be discounted as unproductive because it is what fuels me and has prompted me to write this response. Understand that the Honor Code isn’t in place to hinder free speech, it is there to remind us to be mindful and to recognize the impact of our words and actions on members of the community.
If you would like to respond to this article, please contact the author or The Clerk’s Editor-in-Chief Hannah Cregan Zigler at firstname.lastname@example.org.