Students debate hate talk: Charlottesville sparks discussion

Ashley Brown


A forum organized to allow students to voice their opinions on the events that transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia, was created to be an open arena for free speech.

A diverse collection of about 50 students and professors gathered in Patterson Hall on Wednesday, Aug. 23, to discuss their opinions and ideas of hate speech and its correlation to violence following the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that occurred Aug. 12.

A rally, formed to oppose the removal of Confederate monuments, turned deadly after one woman was killed and several others were left injured after a car rushed through a crowd protesting the movement.

The flier for the forum read, “Is Hate Speech Free Speech? The Case of Nazi Protesters in Charlottesville.”

Luke Ritter, a lecturer of history, opened and facilitated the discussion.

“I believe history provides a crucial perspective on today’s greatest social concerns,” Ritter said.  “I also believe it is important to teach young people how to disagree with one another in a civil and constructive way, more now than ever.”

He first discussed hate speech and its constitutional correlation according to the First Amendment, excluding libel, slander, verbal threats, inciting mobs, invading privacy and traitorous speech.

Ritter presented two popular contrasting ideas concerning true Americanism and free speech.

According to Ritter’s presentation, there are those who believe that there is a kind of hate speech that is un-American and so offensive and harmful to those who hear it that it should be banned. There are also those that believe that to ban hate speech because it offends people is deeply un-American and unconstitutional.

Many students in attendance presented their personal viewpoints regarding Charlottesville and hate speech.

Ben Gordon, a sophomore biology major, said he believes that hate speech does not always incite fear.

He also said it is not possible to make an offensive blanket statement.

“I can’t make a blanket statement that says ‘this is hate speech’ because not everyone may see it as hate or denying them rights,” Gordon said.

Sharna Sharp, a recent political science graduate of Troy University, plans to return for graduate school in the spring. She said she believes that there should be guidelines that define hate speech further to include chants and symbols.

She said that slogans that have historical ties such as “blood and soil”  incite violence.

“It is almost the same concept as someone yelling ‘murder’ or ‘fire’ in a theater,” Sharp said. “It is going to make people feel in danger. If they (protesters) were marching and did not have weapons, I’m sure people would not have felt as in danger.”

Jay Valentine, a history professor, said political correctness has influenced the way situations are perceived.

“The notation that something being problematic because it is offensive is really playing into a larger information war about being politically correct,” Valentine said.  “It is one that I believe is drawn out of proportion.”

At the closing of the forum, attendees were given the opportunity to participate in a survey to represent their ending views. When asked about the usefulness of protests and countermotion, the students voted evenly on both sides.

About 30 of the 44 surveyors voted in favor of banning the Nazi flag and believed the white supremacists in Charlottesville issued a legitimate “call to violence.”

Nearly all of the students voted “no” on the proposition that racist speakers should be allowed on Troy campus.

“I’m not sure how to analyze the data but students sure made some excellent points over the course of forty minutes,” Ritter said.

Ritter said it is important to consider opposing viewpoints.

“Our discussion group is built on the simple premise that the more we meaningfully encounter opinions other than our own, the better we will become at resolving difference and finding solutions to social problems,” Ritter said.

Aaron Hagler, assistant professor of history, was an active participant of the discussion.

“Ritter does a fantastic job with American Downfall discussions,” Hagler said. “The discussions are very valuable for the university community in exploring ideas and problems that we face in this country that are controversial or more recent to people.

“It does not surprise me that a group that is around 45 people large will represent a reasonable cross section of the university,” Hagler said. “I do think that more people that are against hate speech are represented at the university than the population at large.

“I think it took a lot of courage for people who were defending the other side to say what they said. I disagree strongly, but I’m glad they were here because they were able to give voice to the other side.”

Be on the lookout for flyers with more information about the next discussion meeting concerning the “American Downfall.”

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