SIU community discusses hate speech and social media

By Oreoluwa Ojewuyi, Staff Reporter

Corrected 8/26 at 10:12 a.m. to fix Prince Robertson’s title

SIU students, community members, faculty and staff shared their opinions around the issue of hate speech via virtual discussion on Aug. 25. 

The discussion, “A Conversation of Understanding: Hate Speech and Social Media” was held on the Southern Illinois University System channel on Youtube. 

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The panelists discussed their outlook on the first amendment and their own experiences with hate speech. 

Phylicia Reed Cole is a part of the SIU General Counsel. She said in regards to hate speech, that the first amendment is something that should be considered but not used as the only option. 

“We all have a right to be in an environment thats free of harassment and discrimination,” Cole said. 

Steven Macias, associate dean and professor of the SIU School of Law, used an analogy that compared hate speech to pollution. 

“We don’t imagine that one polluter will create a toxic environment. It is the actions of multiple people over a course of time that have negative effects on our environment,” Macias said.

Macias said that multiple instances of hate speech that go unresolved can make other hateful actions all the more justifiable. 

“Schools can do a lot more in disciplining. They need to start documenting the actual harm [and] collect incidents and anecdotes from students themselves,” Macias said.

The panel spoke on issues regarding hate speech that do not occur face to face but rather spread on social media websites. 

Tatiana Kelley, a fourth year medical student, cited an example of hate speech that she watched on video in 2015. 

Kelley said “the video said something along the lines of, ‘We send out this broadcast for all the hard working white Americans out there. We can’t stand for any more of these n****** anymore.’”

The video impacted Kelley so much that she said she considered leaving campus.

“We as people of color, have to continuously endure this kind of trauma,” Kelley said. 

Kelley said she hopes that the universities will think of ways to remedy these kinds of issues in a way that aligns with their diversity and inclusion mission statements.  

Lakeisha Butler, clinical professor at the School of Pharmacy, spoke of an incident that occurred over the summer on an SIUE Facebook page. 

“There was an individual that commented on Facebook that said ‘those people need to go back to Africa’ and referred to Black people as ‘monkeys’,” Reed said 

Reed said that we must speak about instances of hate speech that occur not only on but off campus, especially at “universities who promote welcoming and inclusive environments.”

“I am in support of creating policies that are against hate speech, I understand the first amendment right but on a college campus we are supposed to protect those who are choosing to be there,” Reed said. 

Panelists said we must stay proactive instead of reactive when dealing with the issue of hate speech. 

Following the panel discussion, community members posed questions for the panelists in the comment section.  

Members of the community spoke on issues of mental health, creating safe spaces for BIPOC students and implementing diversity and inclusion in the curriculum. 

Timothy Lewis stated that inclusion is pushed as a university value but often feels like a strategy rather than a goal.

Prince Robertson, assistant director of student conduct within the vice chancellor of student affairs office at SIUE said  “diversity and inclusion make universities look good.”

Robertson said that equality and inclusion aren’t enough, and “equity levels the playing field.”

Anti-racist task forces at SIU are discussing the barriers created for marginalized and underprivileged students and assessing how to make the necessary changes to bridge the gap. 

Panelists and community members continued the discussion by raising the issue of creating cultural understanding and tolerance through curriculum. 

Terry Simuel, student-athlete at SIU, said  “A lot of grade schools gloss over important information, we need to take that responsibility into our own hands. There should be a mandatory history for every [marginalized group].”

Mental health awareness is an issue not only because of cultural and societal pressures but because of accessibility. Community members discussed the importance of therapy for students. 

Kelly said that the “Marginalized Student Network at SIU medical school demanded they have therapists of color”.  

“You’re entering into these spaces that traditionally were not for you. We need people who understand our experience of not only being a student but being a Black or Hispanic student,” Kelly said. 

At the end of the discussion panelists shared a “Word of Hope” with the community promoting hope, optimism, and patience for changes they hope to see come to fruition in the SIU community. 

Vanessa Brown, the moderator and SIUE associate chancellor for institutional diversity and inclusion, closed with “Hope Happens here at SIU.”

Reporter Oreoluwa Ojewuyi can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @odojewuyi

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