Last week, my attractive female co-worker was wearing some very tight fitting clothing which accentuated her large breasts. Needless to say, as a warm-blooded heterosexual male I was very appreciative. After this co-worker left, my friend (also male) walked by and I told him about my attractive co-worker’s breasts in explicit detail.
We had a lengthy discussion about how women serve no other purpose in the workplace than to be eye-candy for hardworking men. We even came up with a chant about how there would never ever ever be any ugly bitches at our place of employment!
To my surprise, my boss called me into her office and terminated me from my employment on the basis of sexual harassment. I was stunned, and slowly that shock became outrage! I never laid a finger on any of my co-workers and furthermore, never said anything to her directly!
However, it seems as though the equipment we use to record our office space when assessing participants for our study had been turned on, and my comments became available to my co-workers and subsequently posted online. My boss found this recording and fired me for it! To recap, my words cost me my job.
Actually they didn’t.
Although my comments regarding my co-worker were never made directly to her, and my song about “ugly bitches” was never aimed at any particular female, I created a toxic environment for my female coworkers. Therefore, in order to ensure the safety and comfort of the women in the workplace, as well as the reputation of the research facility itself, I had to be removed.
For those of you aghast by my blatant sexist remarks, let me alleviate your concerns now. This story is entirely fictitious. I mean, it’s 2015. Nobody still makes idiotic comments about discrimination against a particular minority group and subsequently those comments get reported online, right? Right…?
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Last March, news reports regarding a racist chant sung by OU’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity chapter were posted online. I need not report the facts of this incident in great detail as they are easily accessible online and have been written about in The Collegian and other news sources already. Instead, for the purposes of this piece, I will simply note that the two instigators of this chant were expelled from OU’s campus.
The Collegian article published by editor-in-chief Kyle Walker on March 30th, 2015 called this decision a “deeply and dangerously illiberal perspective on freedom of speech.” The article went on to report that First Amendment case law protects free speech, which is true. In fact, I shall quote the first amendment now:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
I fail to see how Congress became involved with OU’s decision to expel the two students or how this event was a “quintessential violation of the First Amendment.” In fact, government restrictions on free speech seemed to play no part in this decision. Instead, OU President David Boren seemed to have made the final call.
The article makes the claim that Boren’s decision is concerning, as it is in violation of the (former) students’ right to free speech.
Although the university was operating under the guidelines of Title VI of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Walker finds it disconcerting that they were removed from campus for this isolated incident. The article concludes: “On this formulation, the freedom to say what you wish is unlimited, but the right to do so with impunity ends at the whims of those in power, who turn out to be little more than enlightened despots.”
I disagree with this rhetoric. On the basis of the article itself, Boren operated under what he felt were the guidelines set forth by Title VI and made his decision accordingly. His own “whims” were not the issue, as he probably had little-to-no interaction with these students prior to their expulsion. Instead, his decision came from video evidence of the event and existing policy.
Additionally, The Collegian article claims: “[T]he incident at issue, one chant sung on a bus by a crowd of fraternity brothers and their friends, was neither severe, persistent nor pervasive—even if it was abhorrent” (emphasis added) to which I also disagree. The chant involved a repetitive use of a racial slur for African Americans and indifference toward those who may “hang them from a tree” (in reference to lynching, a practice historically perpetrated by Whites toward African Americans). I would argue that this language is by all means severe. Further, the fact that this is a historic chant used by SAE (formally or informally) makes it persistent, and the fact a video was posted online makes it pervasive.
How many African Americans viewed that video and felt unwelcome on OU’s campus?
Simply put, SAE’s chant was hate speech. While Walker’s article seems to be in support of an individual’s constitutional right to say whatever they choose free of consequence, I would feel more uncomfortable in a world which tolerated—and even Constitutionally protected—hate speech.
Language is a powerful social tool and therefore our words should always be chosen carefully. Although Congress shall make no law abridging our right to use speech however we choose, our speech should have consequences, whether or not those consequences are formal or informal. Our right to free speech comes with a price, and the ability to say whatever you choose is directly proportional to your willingness to deal with the repercussions.
The two expelled individuals may now freely sing that chant and the government will not persecute them for it.
Did the (former) students have the right to say whatever they wished, as abhorrent as it is? Yes. Did their words have consequences? Yes. Is this unconstitutional? No.
Nigel A. Cook