Free speech discussion encouraged students to become more tolerant of hate speech


University of Mississippi professor of higher education Neil Hutchens, left, and UK professor of higher education Willis Jones, right, led a discussion about free speech on Oct. 23. Photo by Shannon Hickerson. 

Shannon Hickerson

The UK College of Education Inclusiveness Committee sponsored an interactive discussion on Monday evening, focusing on free speech controversies that have arisen at colleges and universities throughout the U.S.

Professor of higher education at the University of Mississippi Neil Hutchens led the discussion with the aid of Willis Jones, the co-chairman of the Inclusiveness Committee and professor of higher education at UK.

Jones said the discussion was organized in response to the talk of white nationalists coming to Lexington to protest the taking down of Confederate statues.

The committee wanted to help prepare the community by “bringing in somebody that would tell us a little bit about speech issues and how we can balance speech ideals with other ideals as a campus,” Jones said.

Hutchens has been studying speech on college campuses for years and shared his insight on how to better handle these situations, and avoid the violence that took place at the University of Virginia back in August.

“There are groups of people… that really want to show up to campus not just to share hateful ideas… but to create violence if they can,” Hutchens said.

He explained the best way to combat hateful speech is to “respond with better speech.”

The group also discussed what it means to be a “snowflake,” which is a phrase that has become commonly used to describe college students who are supposedly too mentally feeble to tolerate speech that challenges their own views.

This discussion is as relevant as ever as political debates on college campuses are becoming increasingly heated. Hutchens reminded the audience that everyone has the right to freedom of speech, even those disagreed with.