EDITORIAL: Defend all students' free speech rights
Following the assassinations of two New York City Police Department officers on Dec. 20, Khadijah Lynch ’16 tweeted “i have no sympathy for the nypd officers who were murdered today.” Daniel Mael ’15, a writer for the news website Truth Revolt, reposted Lynch’s tweets in an article. A Facebook group soon emerged called “Expel Khadijah Lynch from Brandeis University.” Group members posted rape, lynching and death threats against Lynch.
A student movement called “Stand With Khadijah” soon emerged, as University students acted to defend Lynch from her attackers. In addition, Michael Piccione ’15 sent an email to senior administration and students who claimed to “stand in solidarity with [Lynch]” on Dec. 23. The email urged administrators to penalize Mael for potential violations of the Rights and Responsibilities handbook. It stated “[i]t is unfathomable to many within the Brandeis community that such an action could have been carried out with anything but malicious intent … it is important that [Mael] be held accountable for his actions.”
This board commends the efforts of students to ensure Lynch’s safety and end the harassment directed toward her, and vigorously condemns Lynch’s attackers. Vile as her statements may have been, they in no way merit any punitive action from the University. Controversial speech should never result in the malicious and illegal attacks threatened by Lynch’s detractors.
Universities are bedrocks of free speech, and the Brandeis community’s passionate defense of Lynch speaks to how highly our University values this right, despite national criticism of the state of free speech in Universities. While the African and Afro-American Studies department is justified in asking their undergraduate departmental representative to step down after making public statements contrary to their values, her right to make these statements must be defended, as it has been in this case.
However, we criticize an apparent double standard in how the free speech rights of the two students at the heart of this scandal have been treated. The “Stand With Khadjiah” movement draws a clear distinction between Lynch’s words and her right to be free from harassment. A change.org petition titled “Stand in Support of Khadijah Lynch” writes “we are all entitled to share our opinions no matter how provocative they may be.” However, this same separation between person and speech has not been afforded to Mael, who, in the same petition, is accused of “misguided, diluted and unscrupulous representation of [Lynch]’s character.” In Piccione’s email and other social media responses to the issue, students have sought to penalize Mael for using the same freedoms of speech and press which they defend in the case of Lynch’s twitter profile.
We do criticize Mael’s choice to use Truth Revolt to publish Lynch’s tweets. As a national news organization, Truth Revolt readers lack key context about Brandeis. While a UDR’s inflammatory statements could be worthy of discussion within the Brandeis community, the issue should not have premiered to national scrutiny.
The decision to publish this story in a national forum is what many students criticize, yet doing so is neither illegal nor illicit. The potential Rights and Responsibilities violations pointed to in Piccione’s email deal with intimidation and harassment, but Mael’s article itself did neither; it only reposted Lynch’s previous tweets and quoted her other public statements.
The attacks against her were by Mael’s readers outside of the University, and they have been universally condemned—including by Mael himself on his professional Facebook page. He cannot be held responsible for the actions of his readers. Mael himself also received violent threats, a completely unacceptable response. While the choice to publish Lynch’s tweets in such a public forum is questionable at best, it does not constitute grounds for punitive action against Mael.
Inflammatory use of the First Amendment must be tolerated on both sides of debate for these freedoms to have meaning. This board deeply condemns the threats and harassment Lynch has suffered but holds that Mael’s provocative article is not grounds for punitive action, just as her provocative use of Twitter is not grounds for punitive action.