What follows is an excerpt from a moderated conversation on censorship which took place on February 14, 2018. The answers of Miranda Derflinger (’20) and Tynisia Little (’18) are selected for space and cohesion, but represent the to the fullest possible degree (as judged by The Triangle’s editors) their opinions on the questions asked. The moderators are Emma Jones (’19) and Daniel Johnson (’19).
Miranda Derflinger is a sophomore political science and communication major and a sociology minor. She is a member of Chi Omega Fraternity and is the secretary of Hanover’s Young Republicans Club.
Tynisha Little is a senior Kinesiology and Integrated Physiology major. She is the president of Black Student Union and an aspiring community health advocate.
Jones: What do you personally understand censorship to mean?
Little: Well, ‘personally’ is the key word here.
Derflinger: For me censorship is like the limiting of ideas, whether that is words, thoughts, actions … it could be written, it could be spoken, it could be whatever kind of limitations there are, limiting people to express themselves and their ideas and their beliefs.
Little: She said limiting, I was thinking like restricting, but it’s the same thing. Restricting a freedom to express, it seems like, freedom of expression. But what she said I agree with.
Jones: Can you think of anything that should be censored?
Derflinger: It’s a fine line, you have to be careful with [it]. While there are words that I believe are said today that should not be said, they are allowed to be said whether we agree with them or not because of our constitutional rights, the First Amendment rights of speech which is one of the most protected forms of speech. And I’m actually in a law class, and I brought my law book because I was like, “This is perfect, it talks about censorship . . .” There are different kinds of censorship. There’s censorship with what is seen on TV for young kids. They can’t see obscene or pornographic material and I think that’s totally okay because that could really damage a young child’s mind and how they grow up and [what] they believe. But, it’s a very fine line of what you can and cannot censor, and I believe that censorship should be very minimum on what should be censored.
Little: I agree that it should be a minimum … I think there are some things that shouldn’t be censored and a part of freedom of speech, but for the protection of the people and betterment of the people, then I think that censorship should be allowed. It’s a very fine line, very controversial.
Johnson: From your perspective, is there an issue concerning censorship on American college campuses?
Little: I think there is an issue because there’s a lack of. Or, there’s not enough censorship, and for things that possibly should be censored – whatever that may be, I’m still thinking about that – there are no repercussions. So in some cases, like what I saw on the news last week, people were saying the n-word over Snapchat on college campuses and then the administration finds out and then you’re expelled. That’s a good repercussion. Have you heard about that? Girls were saying derogatory, like, racial slurs on Snapchat, and then the administration found out and they were like expelled, like they were gone.
Derflinger: I think it was WKU [Western Kentucky University] . . . I think there was something similar where there were derogatory words spray-painted on the dorms.
Little: See, that’s completely different, that’s the problem. [laughs] I mean, what do you think?
Derflinger: I definitely think there is an issue with censorship. I also think there’s an issue with the lack of the confidence in the space to talk about these issues. I think we’re allowed to, but I don’t think we have the space to facilitate these ideas.
Johnson: So, you don’t think people would feel comfortable?
Derflinger: Yeah. And I think spray-painting is a whole other issue, damaging property . . ., but I’m saying we have a right to say those derogatory racial slurs. As much as I think that they are wrong and they should not be said, we have every right to. And constitutionally, we’re allowed to say those. Ethically, should we? No. I think it’s 2018, we should all grow up, we have a wide variety of vocab, just use something else. I think there’s more of, like, we don’t have a voice to say anything because we don’t have a platform to say anything. So in that form we’re being censored.
Johnson: Would you agree or disagree that there is a lack of censorship on college campuses where it is necessary?
Derflinger: . . .there is some censorship, but there’s also censorship where there shouldn’t be. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Little: There’s a difference between social media and the workplace or an academic setting that is more professional. Like on social media, people are going to, for lack of a better word, act a fool on social media, but when you’re at work, I think it’s perfectly okay for the boss or whoever to say “Hey, you can’t use this language, or you’re fired.” I think that’s all right.
Derflinger: Yeah, I definitely think I agree because you’re representing a company. And I guess in a sense we’re representing the institution, but at the same time we should also have the right to speak our minds and I think sometimes here we can’t. I think this campus is a really big . . . like we’re big for social advocacy, but as soon as anyone speaks up about anything on social advocacy it’s immediately shut down.
Little: That’s the truth. [all laugh] That’s secretly the truth. [more laughter]
Johnson: Do organizations that call for a stop to hateful or derogatory speech run the risk of censoring speech?
Little: Yes. But like I said earlier, I think it’s for the better and protection of other people.
Derflinger: I agree, but I also kind of disagree, because what are hurtful words? Because obviously derogatory words are hurtful words, but what if I theoretically believed that “stupid” is a bad word? Then you’ve got to continue to censor and censor and censor, and it’s just kind of like a growing hill. It’s a slippery slope . . . there are some words that should be censored, but once you start censorship, then anyone else can come up and say “Well, that offends me, well, that hurts me.”
Little: And I totally agree with what she’s saying. Backlash, well, most of the time if you don’t get backlash, then what you’re doing is not enough. If you’re trying to change something, then you have to be prepared to move through and be persistent and consistent. Back to what Miranda said. If you are targeting groups that have been oppressed, like women, the b-word, like for black people the n-word, et cetera, like those are marginally oppressed people that deserve to say “Okay, this word is hurtful.” But stupid is a hurtful word, but who is it attacking? Originally, it was probably attacking people with mental disabilities. So it can be hurtful. It’s all context-dependent.
Johnson: Should hate speech be guarded from all forms of censorship?
Derflinger: There’s already regulations on hate speech constitutionally. [Constitutionally] we already have set boundaries of what hate speech is or is not, so should there be censorship on hate speech? No, because there already is.
Johnson: Do you think that those are well-placed regulations?
Derflinger: I definitely think so because hate speech kind of revolves around the big groups who have been marginalized, like people with mental disabilities, women, ethnic groups, racial groups. Hate speech is a broader sense but it’s also kind of specifics, like nitty gritty, because not every word is hate speech. It has to be specifically proven, and it’s a very intense and hard process to prove. So I think they are valid because there have been multiple cases by the U.S. Supreme Court and it is changing, it’s not going to stay the way it is now, it’s going to evolve. So in a sense, yes, it’s okay because it has room to expand and to grow and to become the necessary form of censorship for hate speech it needs to be, if that makes sense.
Little: I agree with that, but then my next question would be what are the regulations? Because traditionally, I know that a lot of people and politicians in America, they want to really stick to the Constitution, and the key word that she said was “evolve.” If we were to talk about gun laws, this was written back when you had to pump the gun, you could only do like one at a time. Now we have semi-automatics, etc. and they’re now willing to evolve with the gun laws to move with the time. What I want to be true is what she just said. I want the government to evolve with the time. But I don’t know if that’s happening. Like what are the regulations?
Derflinger: It says here specifically that “if there’s anger, alarm, or resentment on the basis of color, creed, religion, or gender.” So this case specifically was white teenage boys set a wooden cross ablaze in an African American family’s yard, and that’s a form of hate speech because it’s representing the KKK and what they did to people. While I understand that people want to stick to the Constitution, the judicial branch is supposed to [be] separate from politics, it’s supposed to be this unbiased form of body that kind of changes. And so, in a sense, I see what you’re saying, but it’s supposed to be this kind of separate entity.
Little: It’s supposed to be, but when everything is run by the same type of person, aka the white man has all influence over everything, then it’s never really truly unbiased for the most part.
Johnson: Some schools or their students have proposed punishments such as stripping scholarship or Greek affiliation privileges in response to the use of hate speech. Does that equate to censorship?
Little: I don’t think so.
Derflinger: Yeah I don’t think it’s a form of censorship because usually [when] that happens, it’s going to go to trial, and if the courts [don’t] find that as hate speech, then you’re going to revoke that. If you’re saying specifically hate speech as in the wall of hate speech, just like things we’re allowed to say constitutionally, words aren’t considered. Are you saying like hate speech that is defined in the law book or like hate speech as in …
Johnson: Let’s work on both. How about if we say constitutionally regulated hate speech and how about we say derogatory speech as well?
Derflinger: So constitutionally regulated hate speech, I believe that that’s okay. I believe you’re allowed to strip their scholarship. Derogatory words, while I don’t think it’s all right to say [them], you are allowed to say [them] because we believe that in America you have this kind of belief that if you let truth and falsehood kind of grapple, then truth is always going to prevail. So, if you limit that falsehood, you’re never going to let those ideas rise and happen, like you’re not going to change people’s viewpoints. Therefore, I guess it’s not okay to strip scholarships even though it’s not all right to say.
Johnson: So, unless there’s a clear and present danger that speech is, [in your opinion, allowed]?
Derflinger: I think allowed to say, yeah.
Little: I think the word primarily to focus on is “allowance.” That goes also to freedom of speech. We’re allowed to literally do anything that we ever wanted to. The question is, will you do it because of the repercussions. If there are not repercussions, then people are going to do anything. [laughs] So the question is originally, is stripping of scholarships, etc. a form of censorship? No, because if they were to say, “You can’t say this word at all,” that might be censorship, but stripping them is more like the repercussion of the lack of censorship. I’ll give you like two or three strikes, but then I’m stripping athletic status, I’m kicking you out of the house, stripping scholarships, everything. Because as a person from a marginalized group, I have primary experience, like emotional, psychological, mental, all of these things. So I’m with it.
Derflinger: What school are you talking about? Because public schools, you can’t strip scholarship because they are under the government, basically. But Hanover they could potentially [strip privileges]. I guess it is a form of censorship, but they’re censoring it because they’re allowed to. Because they’re our government, basically.
Johnson: So [Tynisha] it’s your understanding that the clear and present danger test is inadequate?
Little: Yeah. It’s not enough. It’s not cutting it.
Johnson: Well that’s all I have.
Jones: That’s all I have too.
Johnson: Well, that was great. Thank you for being forthcoming and not just saying your two words and sitting in your little corner until the next question. That was really great, thank you both so much.
This moderated conversation was made possible through the collaboration of Emma Jones and Daniel Johnson.