The story a few weeks back about the bigotry displayed by two members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma gave rise to different viewpoints about how the situation should have been handled. Here are two that stand out. Both miss the mark.
One reader of the Columbus Dispatch thought the fraternity members’ words should be protected by the First Amendment. As the argument goes, if we allow the Ku Klux Klan to protest on public venues, why not let college students freely express themselves?
I’m not sure the First Amendment applies to state schools. (Any First Amendment lawyers reading this?) Still, whether universities should permit unlimited discourse—they are places where divergent ideas should be discussed—is a good question, especially when cities have been ordered by the courts to allow the KKK to conduct rallies on city land.
But isn’t there a difference between tolerance for polar ideas and allowing hateful speech? If parents send their children to universities to be educated, doesn’t that education include guidance on the difference between liberal thought and hateful speech that is historically tied to dehumanizing a race?
Columnist Cal Thomas suggests the students be forgiven, not punished, an idea he got from Isaac Hill, the president of the Black Student Association at the University Oklahoma. Speaking on the Fox News, Hill said, “It is not smart to fight hate with hate. It is only logical to fight hate with love.”
Thomas believes that “instead of focusing on punishment and expulsion, shutting down the fraternity house and evicting all its residents, the goal should have been redemption. Redemption is a harder road to travel, but the destination should be to change the students’ thinking, not bludgeon them into silence where any racist thoughts might fester and grow worse.”
Redemption would come about by the fraternity members spending time with students of other races, eating with them, taking in a ballgame, meeting their parents, etc.
Hill’s idea of forgiveness and Thomas’ preference for redemption both have unquestionable merit. Great faith leaders have always focused on the importance of forgiveness. Those who have suffered terribly at the hands of others will tell you that with forgiveness comes freedom. Redemption allows offenders to rejoin society.
But isn’t something missing when it comes to the two students who were doing the chanting?
How do you jump to redemption without the necessary predicate of contrition? Don’t the fraternity students first have to acknowledge that what they did was wrong? Even if they are able to muster the fortitude and engage in enough self-reflection to render a heartfelt apology, shouldn’t they be held accountable in a tangible way? How do these students atone for what they did? Is sharing meals or going to ball games with black students enough? If expulsion is too much, is suspension a better fit?
Episodes like the SAE chant make for great intellectual debate, but the debate has been conducted largely in a vacuum. What if you were to watch the actual video? Seriously, click on the link I’ve provided. If you have difficulty making out the words, here’s what the students were chanting: “There’ll never be a nigger at SAE. You can hang ‘em from a tree, but they’ll never sign with me. There’ll never be a nigger at SAE.”
Still feel the same?
Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com
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