Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
March 29, 2023

StuCo letter needs focus

By Staff | March 2, 2007

The Student Council's recent meeting with administrators regarding a letter they sent last winter addressing the University policy on civility is a commendable gesture toward proactive engagement in campus issues -- but for a number of reasons, the Council's letter remains baffling.

StuCo's letter addresses the University's reaction to last winter's controversy over Justin Park's offensive Facebook invitation to the now-infamous Sigma Chi "Halloween in the Hood" party.

Administrators who participated in the meeting showed a willingness to communicate with students about free speech issues. But more than four months after the Council first sent the letter, administrators have waited far too long to respond to StuCo's concerns.

Although the Council did well to react at the time of the Sigma Chi incident by urging the Administration to prioritize free speech, we feel that their appeal remains too unfocused to be effective.

If the Council takes issue with ambiguities in the University's civility policy -- a critique that is not only valid, but important to address -- what are their specific recommendations for a clearer policy? Where should the line be drawn between free expression and offensive speech that makes the campus unwelcoming for certain groups?

We agree that attempts to censor any controversial material -- on the Web, in the media or otherwise -- would be harmful to the campus, and that the University should have a clear policy on how and when to apply punitive measures when it seems that actual racism or discrimination has occurred.

But StuCo's discussion about the free speech matter contributes disappointingly little to clarifying what "offensive" speech or incivility is supposed to mean for students. We hope that StuCo makes an effort to tackle these sticky issues head-on, while not neglecting their other responsibility to produce some coherent comments on improving diversity and race relations at Hopkins.

We also take serious issue with StuCo's apparent defense of The Carrollton Record, which violated fundamental ethics of journalism last year when they published Facebook photographs of members of the Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance (DSAGA) without their consent.

While The Carrollton Record certainly should have the right to continue publication and distribution on campus, their story defaming DSAGA members and making absurd connections between University funding and the distribution of pornography to minors cannot simply be dismissed as "controversial."

The Carrollton Record was unethical and irresponsible in their treatment of fellow students, and deserved some form of sanction. In a discussion of free speech, it is unhelpful to defend a publication that used falsehoods and manipulation of evidence to support an article that truly toed the line between controversial and discriminatory.

StuCo has done well to take on the political issues of free speech rights at a time when such discussions are particularly potent. However, we question the hypocrisy of the Council's recent refusal to take a position on carbon neutrality policies on the basis that it is too political, while simultaneously showing a willingness to engage in thorny first-amendment debates.

If the Council wants to put its word in, it should also get involved in other significant issues that affect the University, including its policies regarding climate change solutions. As to whether this latest meeting between StuCo and administrators truly aims to make a difference or just continues blowing hot air, we're still not certain.

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