Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

"Free Speech"? Your Privilege is Showing

In response to R. Shep Melnick's article "Our Free Speech Problem" published in The Heights on January 27, 2022.

Boston College is the epitome of a white privilege kingdom. With a student population of 66% white students, or 6,270 out of the estimated 9,500 enrolled, majority white views are not the ones under attack. Not only does BC cater to primarily white students, but also to rich students. The venn diagram of these two variables are more often than not a circle, and when we consider the views often held within this circle, I can see why we fared so poorly in free speech on our campus.

Here’s the thing about free speech: it does not give you the right to invalidate someone’s inherent value, safety, or happiness based on their race, gender, sexuality, or any other aspect of their identity that deviates from yours. You were born white! Congratulations! You get to walk through life with your privileges handed to you and without having to fight for any of your basic liberties. This is not an issue about disagreements on trivial issues such as if the East or West Coast is better, but rather you want students to actively argue that certain people do not deserve rights. It is appalling that my classmates and professors do not see how heinous it is to encourage the privileged to argue in favor of denying others the same rights you get to enjoy simply because you won the skin color lottery. I wish I did not have to spend my time convincing you that arguing against someone’s right to enjoy something as simple as living or marriage is offensive and genuinely does not affect you whatsoever.

It is no surprise that there is resentment regarding the administration’s handling of issues regarding free speech. However, I would not say it is because they prevent ideas similar to yours from being expressed. Need I remind you that the administration refused to call a hate crime what it was, instead shutting off the chat function on a webinar when students attempted to express their anger after two white students actively demonstrated their ignorant privilege at the expense of others? That sounds like a violation of free speech to me, yet I saw nothing regarding the rights of our AHANA+ students to speak their minds in your article. The hate crimes and language are allowed to happen under ‘free speech,’ yet students targeted by the actions are immediately shut down and silenced when they ask for the space to protest. I wish I was sorry that the white, cisgender, rich students on this campus do not feel comfortable saying they don’t believe Black lives matter, that LGBTQ+ students are equal to them, or that immigrants deserve to be in America. I’ve heard it all from professors and students alike, and I can tell you that BC does not have a free speech problem; it has a problem convincing its students that saying slurs isn’t included in their right to speak their mind. It has a problem with accepting push back to a status quo that has survived by using minorities, marginalized groups, and those deemed “different” as stepping stones for white, rich, cis, privileged people.

Boston College has a long way to go before becoming an inclusive, safe, and growth-oriented institution, with statements like these standing in the way of that goal. This institution has always been a safe space for the majority, those who comfortably sit in their privilege and seek no semblance of social justice. Don’t get me wrong, whiteness and understanding that identity is not about guilt, physical reparations, or personal apologies. Rather, it is about understanding the power behind language, actions, and decisions, that are rooted in bias that permeates through our society. Of course there are differences between political disagreements and personal attacks, but maybe that line gets blurred for you when your identity does not become politicized among the majority. Consider it a blessing to have the opportunity to be apolitical, to not experience racism (need I remind you reverse racism does not exist?), and to not have your personal liberties threatened because others feel their unearned powers possibly slipping away. I’m sorry that our country has fed you the false notion that you can say and do whatever you want under “free speech” but that does not include projecting the racism that is so fervently prevalent in this world and at BC.

Violence exists in forms that are not just physical, and the privilege seeping through the dismissal of microaggressions as a pseudo-science is repulsive. There is hateful power behind language, with the media and the internet being home to many dimensions of racism. Despite race being a social construct, the social implications are detrimental. One need only look at studies addressing income inequality, school funding, redlining, and mental health outcomes to see the impacts that racism in all of its forms has made on marginalized communities. If I were to ask nearly any AHANA+ student what their experience with racism was on this campus, they would point to microaggressions as a constant occurrence. This isn’t just a speculation. FACES has released plenty of statements addressing racism experienced on this campus. Maybe you never heard about it because it didn’t impact your demographic.

There are many steps the university can take to address the abuse of ‘free speech’ rights on this campus. A campaign to thoroughly educate many students and faculty on this campus who have spent too much time wading in their privilege, and not enough time being pushed into discomfort. Boston College would be a better place without many of the racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and outright hateful people who get to call this campus home. But alas, education may be a better method for fixing our problem. Maybe, picking up a book perhaps? May I suggest, Me and White Supremacy, or How to Be an Antiracist as required readings for all students at BC? Maybe then you’ll understand that your ‘free speech’ is just a euphemism for intolerance.

Updated February 24th, 2022 to include The Heights article title.  

Bleachers music enthusiast and hammocking fanatic. Hoping to make the world a better place through oxford commas, feminism, and bagels.

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