Words Matter

Online. On campus. Everywhere. Hate speech and bigotry seems to engulf our culture.

Fifty-three percent of Americans said they were subjected to hateful speech and harassment in 2018, according to the Anti- Defamation League, a nonprofit organization that aims to fight against defamation and hate.

According to the American Library Association, hate speech is “any form of expression through which speakers intend to vilify, humiliate, or incite hatred against a group or a class of persons.”

But it can only be criminalized when it “directly incites imminent criminal activity or consists of specific threats of violence targeted against a person or group.”

And hate was spewed on campus Tuesday afternoon. But it was protected by the First Amendment of the United States.

Youngstown State University students gathered in the campus core and witnessed a group of people demeaning the LGBTQ+ community, saying members of that community are going to hell. The group also demeaned women.

Jacob Labendz, assistant professor of Judiac and Holocaust studies at YSU, tweeted about the situation and taking action. He said that he took his lead from students and didn’t act against the group until members started accusing female students of promiscuity.

“This escalates into personal attacks so quickly,” he tweeted.

Students rose to the occasion and protested. They were engaged. They spoke their mind. They didn’t put their foot down.

This is what should be done. Students need to engage with people who don’t have the same beliefs as them instead of ignoring their words. Hatred should be met with protest, even if the hatred can’t be legally condemned.

Kelly Baer, sophomore anthropology major, fought against hate on YSU’s campus through a Facebook post on Nov. 5.

“I want to openly reach out to my friends who are constantly being badgered, hated, and unceasingly preached to by hateful people who disguise themselves as Christians,” she wrote. “I am an Ally to the LGBTQIA+ community. I want you all to know that I am a safe person to come out to. LOVE IS LOVE and I will stand by that until the day I die. No one deserves to be denied the love they so desperately need, no matter what form it comes in.”

We stand with Baer. There is no reason for people to be badgered because they are embracing their identities. To be Christian does not mean a person needs to be hateful — and it sure as hell isn’t an excuse to be hateful.

Hate speech can precede serious attacks, as it was also spewed one year ago on Oct. 27, 2018, when 11 people were shot and killed during worship at the Tree of Life synagogue shooting. “Shocked, but not surprised,” is one phrase Labendz used to

describe his initial reaction to the tragic event.
This is reinforced by the statement released by the ADL after

the shooting: “This violence occurs at a time when ADL has reported a historic increase in both anti-Semitic incidents and anti-Semitic online harassment.”

It’s not just talk. Hate speech can lead to hateful actions, and we deserve to spend our day learning and growing without encountering those that demean who we are.

Screenshot of tweet by Jacob Labendz.