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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Defining Free Speech and Hate Speech on Campus

Recent campus conflicts have sparked discussion about the differences between free speech and hate speech on the U’s campus.
Ilona Buhler
(Design by Ilona Buhler | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


When does free speech become hate speech, and where is the boundary between the two?

“When you say hate speech or free speech, I think they are often the same,” said Lori McDonald, vice president of Student Affairs.

Recent posters created by student groups Mecha de U of U and Young Americans for Freedom have tested the boundaries of free speech and hate speech within university policy of student expression, as some feel personally attacked while others feel they are sharing their opinion.

In October, YAF hung posters on campus saying “Men shouldn’t be in women’s bathrooms,” and “The transgender movement harms children,” causing conflict with trans students and allies who felt attacked by the posters.

According to YAF, they were never contacted by university administration about the posters. However, the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion released a statement about dignity on campus, promoting respect and open discussion between students.

Student group Mecha faced a similar conflict in September when they hung a poster of a person holding a gun for a Queer Resistance event.

Mecha said on their Instagram account the EDI office and Student Affairs “harassed” and “pressured” them to either change their poster or add a statement about university policy.

Mecha members said the request from university administration felt “targeted” against them as black and brown students.

While both student groups are protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, accusations of hate speech have blurred the line of what is acceptable speech between the two groups.

While McDonald said hate speech falls under the protection of free speech, she did acknowledge the power words hold.

“They can be very, very powerful in positive ways and in negative ways,” she said.

The university policy on student expression also specifies hate speech falls under free speech and is not illegal, unless it includes unprotected speech such as criminal threats.

“The term ‘hate speech’ is not defined by law, and no such category exists as an exception to the First Amendment,” the policy reads. “Thus, even if speech is hateful or offensive, it is still protected by the First Amendment.”

When asked about Mecha and YAF posters, McDonald said she was “struck” by both.

“Words and images, they both have an impact,” she said. 

Mcdonald said Mecha was contacted by U administration because the LBGT Resource Center co-sponsored the Queer Resistance event, and the Center reports to her. 

She added while Mecha claimed EDI “demanded” they remove their posters, she said EDI merely reached out.

“In my perception, it was not a demand, I just know I reached out,” she said. 

McDonald said she is unsure if any university administration reached out to YAF about their posters. She was involved with EDI’s statement about dignity during the time of the conflict.

“In many ways, our purpose or hope was to think even more broadly than that one instance,” she said. “We know that there are expressions of deep passion, and hurt and harm and politics and religion and so many things around the conflict in Israel and Palestine and Gaza, and so I think we were also acknowledging the need for dignity was wider than just one posting.”

Everett Lopez, vice chairman of YAF, said the group would not have done anything differently.

“We are a smaller student organization,” he said. “Any organization on campus should be able to post a flier that’s been approved, that’s been seen through the chain of command, and we thought that we did everything possible to make this as okay with the system as possible.”

Lopez said YAF “does not hate anybody” and their main goal is to promote discussion between students with different views. 

“We just want to discuss and really bring conservative thoughts onto campuses and have it be okay and not be shut down,” he said.

Mecha member Julio Irungaray said he is frustrated with university administration for approving the posters.

“They say that they want a safe university, but somehow they allow YAF to remain at the institution and allow them to post these transphobic posters that are absolutely disgusting,” he said.

Irungaray said the U is being “contradictory” as well.

“They were hounding us about our poster constantly, and right now they’re completely silent on what YAF is saying,” he said.

He added that he feels the U’s administration cares far more about what he deems “far-right extremists than they actually do about keeping us safe.”

McDonald said the university does provide resources to help all students feel safe.

“Our biggest goal is for students to be aware of what resources there are for them to choose and how we might help them provide support,” she said.


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About the Contributors
Libbey Hanson
Libbey Hanson, News Writer
(she/her) Libbey is a second-year graduate student in the MPA program studying public policy and administration. She is most interested in environmental policy and social justice issues. You can usually find her in the mountains hiking and skiing or reading and writing at a local coffee shop.
Ilona Buhler
Ilona Buhler, Designer
Ilona Buhler is a 3rd year at the University of Utah pursuing a degree in Strategic Communication with a minor in Computer Science. Ilona grew up moving across the world from spending the majority of her childhood in England, then moving to San Diego, California. She then completed high school and moved to Salt Lake City for college. In her free time, Ilona loves to ski, climb and paint. She spends the majority of her free time outside even when she is on campus

Comments (3)

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  • J

    John HedbergNov 19, 2023 at 7:40 am

    Dear Chronic hypocrites,

    I’ve heard plenty of hate-targeting toward innocent students here on campus, being hate-labeled as “oppressors” simply for how they were born, including by student groups and staff here at The Chronic. In the latter case, such articles are too numerous to mention by people who seem to think that their own hate is always justified, when in fact faith-based civil rights with decades or centuries of legal precedent make it clear that hatred itself is the enemy, no matter who is doing it or what rationalizations they imagine for themselves in an attempt to justify their unjustifiable criminal passion.

    Here’s the difference: you can hate a behavior, but you are never allowed to hate a human being.

    Target a behavior with questions and discussion and you’re on hallowed ground, but targeting a human being or any group of human beings as hateful has no virtue and makes you as guilty as the worst “oppressor” you ever projected out of your own bigoted assumptions, since you now are the oppressor, based on your oppressive behavior: no difference between you and the person you purport to hate and paint with your own.

    Here’s an example in response to a recent article:
    Slavery is the history and practice of every people in every part of the world. If you’re alive right now and reading this, it’s because some of your ancestors once took slaves, and some of your ancestors were enslaved, and it doesn’t matter whether your heredity is Polynesian or other Asian, Native American, European, African, Australian, or some combination: if you’re alive and reading this, you are the child of slavers and enslaved. That’s the history of the world, as wrong as it is, and it’s only in recent generations that anyone even thought this would change, with the rise of Democracy, self-government, and the first few governments that ended slavery, mostly in the Christian West starting 200 years ago. Before that time, there were very few places on Earth throughout all of history where slavery wasn’t the norm, whether you called them slaves (literally, Slavic people meant “slaves” to the Ottoman Muslims), serfs, indentured servants, or criminalized forced labor (like many places in China today, where it’s illegal to be diverse or practice Falun Gong, and anyone with a low “social credit score” can have their organs or fetuses involuntarily harvested).

    The Chronic, as usual, seems to get a lot of their perspective from worldwide cultural Marxism, which seeks to divide civilizations by pitting groups against each other out of deliberately exaggerated hatreds, while saying hatred is wrong, and claiming they’re here to save everyone from “oppressors” out of a compassion they never actually practice themselves, while the very first thing they do to “rescue” the oppressed when they take power is to starve and imprison the very populace they said they were here to save (look at Soviet Europe after 1917, China since 1947, Venezuela for the last decade, Cambodia, Cuba, North Korea, and a long list of examples of enslavement and genocide all through the 20th century and into the 21st). So, for The Chronic and Marxist racists, the most important thing is to identify “the enemy” Marxism is trying to save us from this time, in the case of people of pale European ancestry, for instance: “Gringos”!

    Central & South America and the Caribbean Islands, including Puerto Rico, were colonized and enslaved mostly by Hispanics and Portuguese. They were incredibly brutal towards the natives, just as the Arabs were towards the Europeans they captured all through the Ottoman era, as the Egyptians were towards the Jews they kept in slavery for 400+ years, and as the Aztecs and Caribs (cannibals) were towards their neighbors, based on the pyramids of skulls found of folks who were regularly sacrificed to keep these oppressors safe from their “gods”. Slavery and conquest were just as prevalent among the Chinese dynasties, the Japanese, sub-continental India, the Mongol Empire, Persians, Arabs, and the African kings who regularly conquered and enslaved their neighbors and sold them in exchange for luxury items up until European colonialization arrived, and often even afterwards.

    Hawaii, if The Chronicle would be reminded, was very nearly conquered and enslaved by the Japanese Emperor at the end of 1941, less than 100 years ago, and based on how “he” (is this the right pronoun?) treated other peoples his troops conquered, I think the Hawaiians caught a break when the Japanese fleet suffered an unexpected loss at Midway, since those carriers would have soon made the Hawaiians about as welcome in their own homeland as the Chinese who were being exterminated by His Imperial Majesty’s troops on the Chinese mainland at that same moment.

    So, today, all Puerto Ricans are Americans, and if they wanted to be a state, they can choose this any time they care to vote for it. The ones who dispossessed and spoilt and colonized native Puerto Rico were really Hispanics, for centuries, and did those they colonized have a vote?

    So too today in Hawaii. According to Wikipedia(lol), the top 2 colonial ethnic groups in Hawaii in 2008 were Filipinos (Asian, 13.6%) and Japanese (Asian, 12.6%), followed by native Hawaiian, then German, Irish, English, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, and Puerto Rican (those ‘Hispanic colonialists’ again~!). In fact, by continent, Asians were the largest Hawaiian ethnicity in 2020 at 26.4%. What’s incredibly interesting about Hawaii, something Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted during his tenure, is that Hawaii has become a beautiful testing ground for diversity, equality, and inclusion, with 25.3% in 2020 belonging to “2 or more races”. As Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) pointed out during her 2020 presidential campaign, Dr. King thought Hawaii and its culture were symbolic of the hope of humanity’s future. Interestingly, tens of millions of mainland Americans are also multi-racial and poly-ethnic, to the point where it’s now impossible to tell anyone’s ancestry by sight.

    Anyway, if you’re racist against pale-skinned Euro’s, Marxism is definitely the way to go, since Marxists pointedly ignore the worldwide history of oppression and slavery among every other group, including their own rabid history of genocide and totalitarianism, and only foment hatred and division among the cultures and peoples which ended slavery, since this makes those cultures the greatest evil of all! Lol

    Does anyone ever open a book here at the Chronic?

    Meanwhile, I submitted a compliment for an excellent photo, and I was told it was “threatening speech” they refused to print and had my account banned for a compliment, but if any Chronic staff member wants to paint innocent millions of people as “dangerous racist oppressors” because of how they look in the eyes of racist Marxists, including people who resemble many students here on this campus, or if any heterophobe Chronic staffer wants to hate-target innocent Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus as “transphobic” for thinking it’s better to wait until we’re mature enough to know ourselves before we’re bombarded with propaganda about which sexuality we’re supposed to espouse… well, there’s nothing hateful, incendiary, threatening or “contradictory” about anything written or said by student groups or staff at the Chronic, now is there?

    Look at yourselves, question yourselves, and Love your neighbor as yourself, since they are just as human as you, just as fallible as you, and just as Lovable as you, in God’s eyes By Any Name, and in each other’s, if we’re honest and choose to value each other the way good parents do, which is Love.

    Kind Regards, with that Love,
    J Hedberg

    • D

      DillanNov 20, 2023 at 5:45 pm

      Dear John,

      This may be the wrong article (and therefore, audience, if intended to target the author) to submit this comment to. Quoting students’, staff’s and other campus community members’ opinions, demonstrating both sides of the free speech debate, is hardly a questionable action in a field like journalism. I would recommend other opinion articles that demonstrate greater biases under which to make your case and empower your speech, rather than direct it to where it may have little impact. I acknowledge that this comment is free speech, as defined by the article above, but I believe that sharing opinion and thought is most effective when direct, and in person if possible, acknowledging the human behind the thoughts and opinions through parameters of respectful dialogue.



      • J

        John HedbergNov 20, 2023 at 8:06 pm

        Journalism usually assumes we’re not discussing the author, but having an objective look at some particular issue. It’s the culture I’m addressing, which is about behaviors, never about the value of any person (since this is sacred), so if you need comfort that my comment was directed at an issue, not the author (which you apparently do), you’ve got it~! 😊

        J Hedberg