Monday, November 19, 2012

The Freedom to Offend

At freshman orientation this fall, Ursinus College told incoming students there was a "no-tolerance policy on no tolerance."
That policy is being tested now as the small suburban liberal-arts college holds disciplinary hearings for a student who wore blackface to a campus-sponsored Halloween party and another who created a website asking students to rank one another as "hot or crazy."
Both incidents were quickly condemned by administrators and student leaders, who held town-hall meetings to air their grievances.
In a statement Monday, college president Bobby Fong said the campus response to the incidents was "indicative of the health of a community unafraid to speak truth and caring enough to help those who act inappropriately learn from error."
Fong, son of Chinese immigrants, has emphasized open discussions about racial issues since he came to Ursinus in July 2011.
In the Halloween case, a group of male students dressed as the U.S. women's gymnastic team, and one painted his face black to portray Gabby Douglas. Several students approached him and told him it was offensive.
Fong said the student appeared to have acted out of ignorance rather than callousness. He has been meeting with the offended parties and has apologized, Fong said.
Epiphany Summers, president of the college's black student union, was skeptical.
Yeah...a couple of things.  First off, if you have a significant amount of melanin in your skin tone and your name is Epiphany, you have no cause to be looking around for stereotypes to complain about.  You are one.   Not that there's anything wrong with being a stereotype since most of them are based on at least one salient fact.

Secondly,  I get that the Student ID's were misused.   But, if they were available for public access and the school holds no licensing options on them...Guess what?   And, technically, even if there is licensing, the website used to rate students (in whatever capacity) is an application of the Fair Use Doctrine.

Third...and most important...the First Amendment gives us the absolute RIGHT to offend anyone we want...end of story.  This is even more important when the offense is through perception and not in a purposeful way. 

You'd think someone who was raised by Chinese immigrants and, presumably, escaped the rule of Communist China would tolerate and even appreciate these nuances in a free society.  Guess not.

One other thing.  Again, I am reminded of the SK Energy commercial on the radio these days starring 50 Cent (Curtis James Jackson III).  Apparently, to be accepted in "cool" society you have to drink this hopped up energy formula and you turn from a nerdy white guy to a smooth grammatically challenged winner who gets to take shorties to the candy store...or some such nonsense.

Life used to be easier, because it was harder.  You were forced to compete and build up thicker skin.  There weren't "time-outs" if you misbehaved.  There was honest discipline.  There weren't certificates of participation.  There were trophies for the winner.  There weren't whiny little creatures looking for every opportunity to be offended.

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