Article Image
Pearce Kieser for Spectator /

Panelists debated where to draw the line between protected speech and dangerous speech.

Students discussed the disciplinary action faced by Columbia’s wrestling team, the University’s expansion into Manhattanville, and how to limit and regulate online speech at a panel discussion Monday night.

The discussion came less than two days after ex-pharmaceutical executive and provocateur Martin Shkreli joined columbia buy sell memes, a student-run Facebook page. Several members called for his removal before he left the group Monday afternoon, seemingly of his own accord. Shkreli, whose February speech at Harvard University was shut down by protests, announced in the Facebook group that he will speak at Columbia, though he did not give a specific date.

Representatives from the Roosevelt Institute, Columbia University Libertarians, the International Socialist Organization at Columbia, Columbia University College Republicans, and Columbia University Democrats were present at the discussion, which was hosted by Columbia Political Union.

Panelists agreed that speech should be protected for students, regardless of how problematic their views were; most also agreed that dangerous speech should be censored, though they debated where to draw the line.

Meredith Dubree, CC ’17 and president of CUL, said she believes the University was correct not to take disciplinary action against the Columbia wrestling team after leaked group messages revealed senior members of the team made racist, sexist, and derogatory comments. Instead, the University suspended the team’s season.

“I would have found it really problematic if they had decided to expel people, which they didn’t, for private conversations, despite how disgusting they were,” Dubree said.

Roosevelt Institute member Ademali Sengal, CC ’18, disagreed, saying the University should have been “more proactive” in stopping this sort of speech in order to encourage an end to the behavior.

Other panelists echoed similar statements, though Jonah Ben Avraham, CC ’17 and ISO member, questioned whether Columbia is fit to make rulings on what speech was acceptable.

“We have to grapple with the fact that Columbia is not an institution that can be trusted to mediate issues which are and aren’t racist—we’re talking about an institution that directly aided and abetted the incarceration of black and brown folks just to expand its campus,” Avraham said, referencing Columbia’s expansion into Harlem with its Manhattanville campus.

The conversation also moved away from Columbia’s campus to address free speech issues in the United States as a whole. Representatives debated where to draw the line regarding threatening or harassing speech online. There was disagreement as to whether online harassment could be considered harassment because does not occur in person, and whether anonymous online speech could be regulated.

All panelists seemed to agree, however, that there is an important difference between condoning the content of the speech and allowing it under free speech laws.

“When we speak out against these ideas, we are not speaking out against the right to free speech, we are speaking out against those who support these ideas,” CU Dems member Shrayan Shetty, CC ’19, said. | @ColumbiaSpec

CPU ISO CUCR CU Dems CU libertarians