Center for Ethics and Leadership hosts discussion on hate speech

The Center for Ethics and Leadership and the Charles Koch Foundation hosted a debate between two scholars- a communitarian and a libertarian- on hate speech censorship on college campuses in Jones Auditorium on April 25.

Tara Smith, a professor of philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin, and Shannon Gilreath, a professor of law and women’s studies at Wake Forest University, supported opposing stances.

The debate between Smith and Gilreath argued different aspects of hate speech, freedom of speech, safe spaces, and censorship. Hate speech is defined as a verbal attack on a certain person or group of people due to their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.

“There is no right answer to whether or not something is offensive,” said Smith. “Anyone can take offense to anything… It’s simply impossible to prove them right or wrong.”

The speakers discussed the offensiveness of speech and how it plays a role in how laws are made. Students in attendance were given the opportunity to ask the speakers questions concerning hate speech on campus, not only at St. Edward’s, but at all college campuses across the country.

Another topic that the speakers discussed was whether or not speech codes help or hurt students. Speech codes are limitations on speech that are usually held in place by universities and workplaces. Many schools adopt trigger warnings to allow students to be aware of the potential of being traumatized by sensitive content in mediums such as text or images.

“[Trigger warnings are a] disservice to a generation of young people,” said Gilreath

Gilreath believes that trigger warnings are “problematic” and believes that they “teach young people to be afraid of the content they see in school and online.”

Smith agreed with this point, saying that trigger warnings “weaken people in the long run” because they “won’t know how to have the argument” further down the road.

Both speakers are well-known in their respective fields. Smith is the author of numerous books, such as “Moral Rights and Political Freedom and Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root And Reward of Morality.” She has also written for several journals such as “American Philosophy Quarterly and The Journal of Philosophy.”

Similarly, Gilreath has also written several books, including “The End of Straight Supremacy, and Gay Politics.” He is a core member of his university’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program and has been cited by many scholars throughout his career.

The debate ended with a conversation surrounding offensiveness on campus and in politics.