Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
On Oct. 25, the University of Maryland Senate discussed a campuswide ban of hate symbols, concluding that the implementation of such a ban besides at athletic events wouldn't be possible.
The university's deputy general counsel and the office's chief of staff, Diane Krejsa, spoke at the meeting, explaining, "This is not a home. If people are paying money to come to college because they want a home — where people all think alike and everybody has the same political views, and the same social views and the same views on sexual orientation and transgender and whatever religion or whatever it is — they should stay at home."
It's telling that a university that prides itself on being a "Do Good" campus cannot work to protect the mental health and safety of marginalized students and communities on campus. It is more telling that this decision was made in light of campus events over the past year, during which a former student was charged with the the murder of a black visitor, a noose was found in a fraternity house and swastikas were drawn on academic buildings.
University administration argues a campuswide ban would impede the First Amendment rights of citizens, students and employees on the campus. However, a ban is enforced at athletic events because, according to Krejsa, they are "limited" and must establish a "family-friendly atmosphere."
Those in power at this university continue to reinforce the idea that free speech includes hate speech. It should not. The latter promotes violence against a group of people by definition. The First Amendment does not, in words of the American Civil Liberties Union, "protect behavior on campus that crosses the line into targeted harassment or threats, or that creates a pervasively hostile environment for vulnerable students" — behavior that often relies on the signs and symbols found on our campus.
What is so often seen as legal, then, is what those in power interpret to be just. It is both important and valid to consider students' First Amendment rights, but that doesn't mean university administration should ignore students' feelings of safety and belonging at the institution they pay to attend.
The acts of hatred at this university aren't empty threats. They are deliberate attempts to exclude marginalized people, and need to begin to be framed as such by an administration who seems to care more about ridding our campus of Coca-Cola products than white nationalist posters.
This debate illustrates a trend that reaches beyond our campus. Those in power under our current political and economic systems prioritize the concerns of the few, who rarely have to worry about hate speech, over the most vulnerable, who have every reason to worry about it. Race, sexual orientation, religion and gender identity aren't political views that are simply chosen and disagreed on; they are dimensions of identities that inherently shape and impact lived experiences.
University President Wallace Loh's continued proclamation of our collective need to "nurture a climate," where we all "stand against hate," is punctuated with the administration's failure to do anything concrete for our most vulnerable students.
There is no easy answer, but rather than being exclusively reactionary, I implore the administration to listen to and take seriously the student leaders who have been tirelessly organizing to foster dialogue and progress. Rather than taking an exclusively defensive, pedantic tone, I urge administration to think critically about the messages — or lack thereof — they are sending. The silence is deafening.
Sarah Riback is a sophomore English and sociology major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.