Within the past week, the flyers found on doors in Meadows West have caused the topic of hate crime to be an important conversation on Wheaton’s campus. These flyers contained hateful and dehumanizing language, mainly supporting racist and anti-semitic ideologies, threats, and slurs. An email sent by President Hanno following the reporting of the incident stated that “Hate speech cannot be tolerated [on campus].” Residential Life had held a community meeting on Saturday night, and took “action” today (Thursday) regarding the incident. Four yellow pieces of construction paper were hung in the middle of Balfour-Hood, all asking the same question “What are words that hurt?” These papers have also been posted in residence halls. On these papers, a large spectrum of words have been documented by students, from “stupid” to gay/lesbian and racial slurs. The papers are set to be destroyed in a bonfire on Friday, Sept. 11.
However, there is a difference between words that hurt and hate speech. To understand words that hurt, we evaluate human decency by basic moral standards. To understand hate speech, not only must we evaluate these standards, we must also open textbooks, study police records, listen to experiences. By diminishing anti-semitic symbols and derogatory words to “hurting words” rather than “hateful words,” we are diminishing the severity of alienating whole groups of people on a campus that have already been statistically marginalized. Hate speech does not only hurt. It comes with a whole system of oppression that demeans, shuns, intoxicates, and becomes deadly.