Hate Speech: Moving Forward
Early this morning (Thursday 5 May) I found myself on my hands and knees erasing controversial chalk messages from our footpaths. Some friends, people passing by and colleagues joined me as we worked from path to path and building to building.
Some of it was less objectionable: ‘Freedom of Speech’ is a pillar of our society. But when it is scrawled alongside ‘Australia for Australians’, or ‘Diversity Divides’ it becomes clear what the author’s true intentions are. Every year we have people come on campus and spread messages of hate and intolerance. Whether it is distributing Holocaust denial material, encouraging anti-Islamic rhetoric or harassing women, it is clear that we have a long way to go.
Throughout these events, UMSU has reflected on its role as both a representative body and in our capacity to organise on behalf of students. Our responses have been varied, we have organised events like Chalk For Diversity, we will be introducing greater representation via a new People of Colour Department, and we have called out unacceptable behaviour when we see it.
We have had our blind spots and sometimes we haven’t been able to mobilise as quickly as we had hoped. We are not perfect. However, I take exception when we are criticised for our ongoing commitment to students, including our respect and service for students from diverse backgrounds.
I applaud the great number of students that are united against this spree of unacceptable behaviour. Freedom of speech is not the freedom to intimidate, harass or humiliate.
I have been conflicted about making a statement of this nature, I do not want to incite more instances of this nature and I do not want to provide a platform to the people spreading these messages. After much deliberation and advice from my colleagues, it is important that everyone knows what their fellow students have been going through, and the effect that this behaviour has on our community. It frustrates me and it occupies my thoughts constantly. I cannot imagine the stress it puts on those that have been targeted.
Words are not enough, especially when the ramifications of this behaviour are not words alone. For months international students have been the target of a series of thefts and assaults on campus. Vandals have entered Union House and have targeted specific departments. For some individuals on the UMSU team, the harassment is ongoing. Enough is enough.
Moving forward we will be working with the University and pressing Safer Communities and Security to bring about action on these issues. We have been providing the evidence directly to the University and it is my hope that those responsible are duly held accountable for their actions. I am disappointed that we do not have better news to report at this stage. Both UMSU and the University are committed to ensuring that all students feel welcomed and safe and we can both do better.
I encourage anyone with more information to come forward. I also encourage everyone to reflect on these messages and consider the ramifications they have on our community and the individuals that it consists of. This is a developing issue and one that we will not let be invisible.