Letters to the Editor

Steven Knapp: free speech crusader

John McCormack wrongfully attacks GW President-elect Steven Knapp in his column “Steven Knapp v. the First Amendment” (Apr. 12, p. 4). The writer must understand that the First Amendment offers no protection for racist speech. It only protects reasonable speech that promotes democratic change. Knapp and Johns Hopkins University have every right under the United States Constitution to discipline and punish the racists who lurk among the student body.

Furthermore, contrary to McCormack’s opinion, racist speech never qualifies as an exchange of ideas. The architect of that concept, philosopher John Stewart Mill, considers racist speech to be something that is of no use to any person. Mill pushes to prevent concepts such as racism from entering the exchange of ideas, and so does Knapp.

Most importantly, racists crush free speech. A racist attack is like a physical attack: it leaves victims stunned, bruised and withdrawn from future participation. Racial groups at GW do not invite attacks, nor do they invite the triple burdens of recovery, organization and counterattack. When the university strikes down racists, it expands free speech in both content and participation.

I hope that Mr. Knapp’s principled stance and the Don Imus controversy help GW administrators draft and enforce a list of racial offenses and sanctions. GW might then emerge as a beacon of truly free speech for universities throughout the world.

-Gordon Yu, Senior

Don’t misinterpret free speech

In his column, Mr. McCormack appears to be confused about what free speech really means. Free speech does not mean that one does not have to deal with the consequences of the speech – it means that one won’t go to jail for using it.

In the case involving Knapp and Johns Hopkins University, a student posted stereotypical and degrading rhetoric for a fraternity and hence also a university event. The student was held responsible for his speech. If the student had privately created the event on Facebook, then I would agree that Johns Hopkins would have no right to punish the student for something he did on his own outside the boundaries of the university.

However, when the student chose to include the event as a fraternity-sponsored party and when the fraternity is a part of the larger university, the speech becomes linked to the university. Hopkins has every right to regulate the speech used for school-sponsored events. The First Amendment is no excuse to run away from personal responsibility or hide from consequences, as so many seem to believe.

-T.J. Garman, Senior

Knapp’s move shows concern

The recent Hatchet editorial “Knapp in Alumni House brings benefits, questions” (Apr. 9, p. 4) did an admirable job parsing the immediate consequences of incoming President Steven Knapp’s potential move into Alumni House, but largely missed the overall point. The editorial page, which has long failed to call out University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg for his failure to connect with students, contented itself with mentioning only in passing the value that such a move would have as a symbolic commitment of Knapp to students and student life.

Seniors, GW veterans that they are, have long whispered among themselves that the administration has something other than students’ best interests at heart. What that something else might be, no one is really sure, although one does begin to wonder when hearing of the president’s multi-million dollar house, ample salary, valedictory globetrottings, insistence on littering the campus with unedifying/ugly artwork or the recent promotion of his dorm tour as something akin to an imperial audience.

Perhaps in karmic retribution for such lack of faith, said seniors have to look forward to none other than the generalissimo, President Trachtenberg himself, as the Commencement speaker (apparently Bono and Bill Gates were busy that weekend). Some might see this as a befuddling and infuriating choice. Others, wiser to the ways of our distinguished president, know that it represents the perfect final stroke in the portrait of his time at the helm of GW. You know – the one that really ties the whole picture together.

Assuming President Knapp’s interest in occupying Alumni House is indicative of his larger intentions, The Hatchet would have done well to spend more time pointing out the sea change such intentions would represent and encourage the incoming administration to make a habit of such a student-focused mindset.

-Matt Schrader, Senior

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