Photo courtesy of Connor W. Davis

Upon entering Sturm on April 12, 2017, the climate was tense as opposition and support alike attended the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) event for free speech. The event had a lot of advertising and hype around it as it approached, so Lindsay auditorium was packed to the brim as people filed in and were offered foam middle fingers upon entry.

The goals of the YAF group, led by Matt Rhodes, a senior studying at the Lamont School of Music, are described as “freedom of speech and intellectual diversity,” as well as to challenge prior assumptions.

With an explicit purpose to encourage free speech, the speaker himself, Justin Longo, co-founder of Liberty on the Rocks, manifested that to cover various types including hate speech. To begin his speech, Longo referenced several different responses to oppressive authority in the past such as punk rock, the hippie post World War two movement, and now President Donald Trump. He explicitly suggested that Trump offers a punk rock allure and begged the audience to “stop making Donald Trump cool,” and thus leading to his next point that social justice warriors themselves are the establishment, and the harder they suppress and exert authority, the bigger backlash.

This introduction led Longo into his four points of free speech and their importance. The first was that being offended is how we learn. Bringing ideas out into the open allows the public to criticize whether they are good or bad. The second was that science is not about research. If you aren’t willing to bring your ideas subject to public discourse, they will never be challenged. Third, hate speech is minority’s best friend. It brings bigots out into the open and Longo suggests we should  “let these people hang themselves.” Personally I find this a bit insensitive due to the history of slavery in this country and what that phrase signifies to the ancestry of the United States. Fourth and finally, he asked the audience if not hate speech, then what? People would resort to violence.

This speech itself was subject to a plethora of questions that were offered by both opposition and support. Honorable mentions include one student asking if the speaker himself has ever been a minority or experienced hate speech, and his only example is that people make Italian jokes to him when he eats spaghetti.

Another student, freshman Kelsey Robuck, approached the question and answer to ask Rhodes whether the YAF group has considered why they have been “targeted” and called the KKK, taking it as a learning opportunity that was aforementioned to be a benefit of free speech. As keynote speaker Longo began to answer, but the student said she was not very interested in what he had to say. In response, Longo replied, “Says the white blond.”

Finally, a student asked if hate speech should be spoken even if it makes people fearful and to that the keynote speakerresponded “yes.”

Overall, my first comment is that for a free speech event, I found conflicting statements regarding it. For example, the sentiment encouraged all free speech to be accepted, yet they had problems with being called names themselves and the keynote speaker suggested that the audience was shutting down the open dialogue with the approach to the question and answer.

In my own opinion, I do not feel that hate speech is a constructive way to deal with problems or different perspectives. There is no reason that calling people names or expressing fear-inducing statements will better society in any way or allow people to sort out good and bad ideas. Rather, encouraging such rhetoric can only make the targeted group feel more separated and excluded from the conversation between cultures that needs to happen.