Handling of Pub Nite Incident Provokes Student Response

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Students are calling on the administration for a stronger response against hate speech and harrassment after a pair of unrelated incidents drew a single email from the College.

While Dean Braun’s message encouraged thoughtful reflection on both the homophobic slurs spray painted on David Kemp and last week’s Pub Nite, during which a student waved a confederate flag, some students want to see the administration act more quickly.

“Knowing how to respond to something quickly and intelligently is something that Swarthmore does not do well, and it can be offensive to the people involved,” said Kenneson Chen ’14, who appreciated the email, but would have liked to see more “acknowledgement and thoughts” about the Pub Nite incident.

“I’ve heard some criticism from students about me not sending an email out about the Pub Nite incident sooner. That’s challenging, because one of the things I’m trying to do is balance really being thoughtful about what I send out and making sure that I’ve got accurate information,” said Braun in an interview with The Daily Gazette, acknowledging that an update on that investigation earlier on would have be reassuring to students.

Last Pub Nite, a student’s guest stood on the benches surrounding the dance floor waving a confederate flag amid chants of “USA, USA.” Avery Davis ’12 confronted the person. Several of the Swarthmore students around him allegedly protected the guest, who later verbally harassed Davis’s friend when asked again to leave.

The Swarthmore student responsible has since faced a judicial hearing, said Braun in a follow-up email to the Gazette. She could not comment further but said that the student was remorseful and upset with his guest.

Chen, who interns for the Dean of Intercultural Affairs representing the Swarthmore Queer Union, and is a Virginia native, was shocked to hear about the flag waving at Swarthmore.

“For Southerners, when you’re traveling the South and you see the stars and bars, or the other confederate flag, you feel unsafe. Especially if you’re black, if you’re a person of color, or if you’re queer; [I had] a very visceral reaction. My space was invaded by hate symbology,” he said.

Davis went to see Braun Friday. Initially, she was encouraged by her conversation with Braun but then did not hear from the administration again until Monday, speaking with Associate Dean of Student Life Myrt Westphal. Westphal was similarly concerned but not proactive, said Davis.

“To me it seems to be part of a pattern. You go to the deans with an issue you feel is community-wide and they take really good personal care of you. They kind of placate you as the complainer, enough so that you’ll calm down and then [they] don’t ever have to really address the underlying problems,” she said.

Davis went to the administration on behalf of a group of about ten students who were disturbed by the Pub Nite incident. She said the one sentence on its investigation in Monday’s email “is not nearly enough.”

“We as an entire community, and the white community [of this campus], should be embarrassed that this happened and that more of us didn’t step up, and that now our legislative administrative body is tacitly condoning it by not coming out and saying this is what happened, this is how we dealt with it,” she said.

Both students see the Pub Nite incident as well as the weekend vandalism as symptoms of a larger problem that need to be addressed by both the administration and the campus community: the physical and mental safety of minority students of campus, be it students of color, ethnic minorities, or queer and transgender students.

Chen said the spray-paint incident in particular “reinforces something that queer students have known for a long time, which is that Swarthmore [is] not very safe for queer students.” He said the same holds true for students of color and women as well. He said cat-calls and verbal harassment are common in the Ville.

Over the weekend David Kemp was vandalized with homophobic slurs. The Swarthmore police believe the same non-student(s) spray-painted the SEPTA underpass as well as several cars and public spaces in the Ville late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

Both Director of Facilities Stu Hain and Swarthmore Chief of Police Brian Craig say the relationship between College and Ville authorities is “positive,” and includes monthly meetings as well as coordinated investigations of this weekend’s vandalism and other such problems.

Braun’s office is considering “Bystander Training” sessions to teach students how to intervene in situations such as the one at Pub Nite without putting themselves at risk.

But Davis said she was hoping for a stronger response from the administration.”Bystander training is great but its not addressing the root of the problem: why is this happening? Why are students thinking this is okay way to behave? Why is it not being shut down with more than a campus-wide email?”

Along with more discussion within the College and with residents of Swarthmore, Chen would like to see “systematic programming” on these issues enter the equation. He notes that students only undergo mandatory diversity and sexual misconduct prevention training once in their four years here, at orientation.

“The way it’s structured now doesn’t lend itself to a learning process. You don’t just learn a lesson once, do you? You reinforce it and reapply it.”


  1. “To me it seems to be part of a pattern. You go to the deans with an issue you feel is community-wide and they take really good personal care of you. They kind of placate you as the complainer, enough so that you’ll calm down and then [they] don’t ever have to really address the underlying problems,” she said.

    THAT is exactly how I felt sexual assault was dealt with while I was at Swarthmore. But, things have gotten marginally better since I left (I’ve heard) because of administrative policy changes (Deans are now *required* to follow up on any allegation of assault).

    Neither of these incidents was directly perpetuated by Swarthmore students, that alone is a comfort. I don’t think more formal Diversity training or awareness will be effective or welcomed. I think more informal open events and ring discussions on these kinds of topics hosted by the IC is the way to go.

    Setting the stars and bars aside — The real issue here is how to deal with the roving bands of random visitors on campus. Let me remind you, this isn’t the first time this has happened: http://daily.swarthmore.edu/2009/9/17/squ-vandalism/, http://daily.swarthmore.edu/2011/04/06/assault/ and it sure as hell won’t be the last.

    Maybe it’s an issue of surveillance? Does Public Safety/Swarthmore Police have enough patrols by the outer edges of campus (ie train station, DK)?

    • Having met students from the Ville outside the context of the college (I met one while taking a year away from Swat), and having heard their lack of shock/surprise when last year’s assualt occurred I feel any sort of solution to this problem needs to come from dialogue/work between the College and Ville RESIDENTS (not just the Police – I think families have a bigger impact on high schoolers). The school isn’t hesitant to engage the Ville community when the college’s actions might have repercussions for the town (see the Inn last year), but I don’t see this same sort of interplay when the actions of town residents affects the college. I don’t think it’s out of line for school to reach out/express its concerns directly to residents, if done respectfully, yet still firmly.

      On another note, however, as a black student at Swarthmore, I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with the generalizations/statements regarding the feelings of “students of color” at Swarthmore, or those discussing the way in which the “white community” needs to act with regards to our feelings. Discomfort and marginalization of POC can occur just as easily at the hands of those who are concerned/making an effort to help. But all that goes into a wider/deeper issue separate from the ones this article addresses.

      Discourse on campus would be great, but as we saw last semester there so many different issues at stake. I think we’d benefit from several, each tailored to addressing a different issue/topic on campus (similar to the way in which StuCo is hosting their event on the school’s Sexual Misconduct policy tomorrow).

    • While the incidents described were not led by Swarthmore students, I hesitate to breathe a sigh of relief that this “wasn’t us.” I can only speak to the flag incident, but in that case Swarthmore students, while not waving the flag, were chanting and clapping while the flag was being waved and helped to rebuff other Swatties who sought to stop the behavior. Additionally, the flag waver himself was a guest of a Swarthmore student who attended another college, not a kid from Swarthmore Township. I agree that it would be much, much worse if a Swarthmore student had instigated the flag waving; I just don’t think we need to be patting ourselves on the back about how well Swatties comported themselves.

  2. These are exactly the frustrations that I’m having with the handling of these incidents.

    I think that the training is a nice idea and dealing with the people directly involved also really good, but what about having some kind of community discussion about hate and the ways that words and symbols can have violent meanings, regardless of whether those meanings are intended or not?

    For that to happen, we don’t even really need to know all of the details before acting: a conversation about why the Confederate flag and slurs (including those based on gender and sexuality) make people feel threatened (both psychologically as well as physically) need not be based on a confirmed sequence of events. I don’t need to know exactly who is responsible for exactly what to participate in a general dialogue about these kinds of things.

    So why does it feel like nothing like that is happening?

  3. Another small matter: as I was walking into Hicks for my 9:30 class today, I saw that someone had chalked “SNOBS” on the front of the building on the side closer to Pearson. This minor vandalism is not comparable to the other acts of hate on campus, but I feel like the latter more egregious offenses certainly enable the former.

    Yet I think the administration is treating the symptoms and failing to address the disease. For some reason (probably many reasons,) civil and supportive discourse is deteriorating. It’s really troubling to watch it happen.

    • Keep in mind that one of the underlying diseases is that we call people that live in the town “rats”. If I were a parent and I found out that a bunch of college students from out of town were calling my children “rats” I’d probably think those students were snobs too.

      That’s by no means the whole of the issue, but we students need to stay open minded and try to figure out what we’re contributing to these problems as well.

  4. First off, thanks so much for writing this.

    @5, while I agree with you for the most part, I’m not sure that increased surveillance really addresses the “underlying problems” either. I would love to see measures taken to promote more discussions about racism and homophobia on campus so that Swatties leave here ready to confront those forces within themselves and in the outside world. I think the underlying problems have a lot to do with very little awareness about how to be effective allies, particularly in instances of hate speech. Surveillance can have the effect of removing responsibility from the students to act when they see something hateful, dangerous, etc. That being said, acting on that can be done in both responsible and irresponsible ways, which is where campus workshops, dialogues, etc. come in. While I know this is Swarthmore and we all sort of trust the administration, public safety, etc. to act more or less responsibly, I think increased surveillance is generally a dangerous and unhelpful trend.

  5. I was also really upset by Public Safety’s response to the Pub Nite incident. When they were called and asked to help deal with the situation, the dispatcher claimed that they didn’t see a problem with what was going on, denied that it could be seen as hate speech (which the flag and the epithets both absolutely are), and made no move to come to assist at all. The head of Public safety has since apologized, but it makes me feel additionally unsafe to know that if I’m ever in a situation where I’m feeling threatened, depending on which officer is on duty, they may not come to help me.

  6. Why would you chant “USA” with a confederate flag? Were these rebels attempting irony?

  7. “Chen said the spray-paint incident in particular “reinforces something that queer students have known for a long time, which is that Swarthmore [is] not very safe for queer students.” He said the same holds true for students of color and women as well.”

    …Is this a joke? Do you know how absurd this sounds?

    • Why does this sound absurd? We’ve had queer students beaten up, we’ve had police harassment of gender nonconforming people in the Ville, we’ve had racial and gendered slurs leveled at students, we have a growing number of sexual assaults…in what way is this absurd? Obviously Swarthmore is much safer than many other places, but that does not make concern over breaches in safety absurd.

    • i can try to explain why some people might legitimately view that comment as absurd. the comment is suggesting that Swarthmore is not a safe space for queer students. whether this is referring specifically to the ville or the college is a bit unclear, but the point is that relative to most other college environments, the swarthmore college campus community is generally quite accepting and supportive of queer students. this is not to say that there aren’t instances of hate and violence, and probably stubborn pockets of intolerance in the campus community.

      but the US in general is a fundamentally homophobic country. swarthmore ultimately has little control over who wanders onto campus and spray paints homophobic slurs on the sides of buildings. students are justified in feeling unsafe in reaction to these incidents. it’s entirely appropriate and expected that the administration and student body react strongly to instances of hate and violence. but it’s unreasonable to expect swarthmore to insulate us from all hateful aspects of society. comments like “Swarthmore is unsafe for queer students” implicitly suggest that on some concrete level Swarthmore can take steps to physically prevent people from wandering on campus and spray painting sides of buildings, to keep students from yelling slurs, etc. (the comment that we should have more public safety officers patrolling campus boundaries more explicitly expresses this sentiment.) we can try to promote social sensitivity through education, advance tolerance, take action against hate, make sure those who spread hate are held accountable, and challenge ourselves to be a more tolerant community. but we can’t eradicate hate, and comments like the above risk obscuring the fact that overall, in general, in terms of broadly defined campus culture, Swarthmore provides a positive, supportive environment for queer students, especially relative to most colleges and universities in the US.

      • I’m sorry, no.

        Is Swarthmore better for queer students than lots of other places in this country? Sure.

        Does this mean that the complaints of queer students about not being safe on this campus are “absurd”? NO, IT DOESN’T.

        Does this mean that comments alleging such absurdity are something other than what they are–disgusting and indefensible attempts to delegitimize the real experiences of people in marginalized groups? NO, IT DOESN’T.

        Frankly, I’m sick and tired of people talking about how “great” Swarthmore is as an excuse to avoid talking about what it could do better. If the best we can say is that we’re better than most of a country that you rightly point out is “fundamentally homophobic,” that’s pretty pathetic.

        • i’m not trying to “delegitimize the real experiences of people in marginalized groups.” i can understand why others sometimes feel unsafe. their feelings are entirely legitimate. i think swat could certainly get better. and moreover i agree that “absurd” is an excessively harsh word to describe the comment.

          but as a queer student myself i don’t want to ignore or dismiss the fact that the general college environment, with difficult to avoid exceptions, is supportive. my point about swarthmore being relatively safe compared to the country we’re in may sound minimally important, but my point was really this: when you’re a college that doesn’t have walls erected to the outside world and an intensive social tolerance screening process as part of admissions, it’s difficult to entirely avoid instances of hate. we should keep trying, and we should have a dialogue about how best to improve our sensitivity and tolerance and decrease hate. but i don’t know if broadly labeling swarthmore as unsafe for queer students is a constructive part of that dialogue.

          tl;dr: you’re right, but as a queer student i also feel it’s important not to ignore how comparatively progressive and safe swarthmore usually is in the process of have a dialogue and making it a better place.

  8. I think the problem with “bystander training” is that it punts the issue of what the deans’ responsibility is in the whole situation. while we as students do need to be enter at responding to situations like these, it’s important to realize that the deans’ office is there for a reason, and part of that reason is to ensure the safety of students, which is not only limited to telling us how to try to fix the problem

    • Yes. What Avery was upset about was how the deans seemed to be too slow to reach out to the community about the incident, not about what bystanders could have done at the time of the incident. Yet what the deans first offered didn’t address that in the slightest.

      I’m looking forward to this Friday’s collection.

  9. Not that I’m in the habit of doing this, but I have to stand up for the administration here regarding the timing of their response.

    This article and aggrieved students suggest that meeting with a student on Friday and responding with an email on Monday represents an unjustifiably slow response.

    Seriously? This assertion:

    – applies “internet speed” to a real world situation,
    – envisions the dean in their offices twiddling their thumbs with nothing else on their plates
    – expects deans to drop whatever weekend plans they may have had to investigate and hold meetings on a response to a non-emergency situation, and/or
    – suggests the administration jump instantly at someone’s say-so, without any independent assessment of the facts.

    This is not fair to the administration. The expectation that every dean on campus can and should drop everything, including weekend plans, reveals a certain arrogance or self-indulgence that is not attractive.

    The fact that the administration DID, in fact, drop everything, but STILL is chastised for a “slow response”, reflects poorly on students.

    Being on a college campus, the Dean’s Office provides you with a nice bland official explanation for their “tardy” response. But, keep in mind, if you were stamping your feet and demanding instantaneous action at home, your mom would be more straightforward and say “Stop acting like a brat”.

    • It’s not that the response was slow necessarily, but that the response was totally insufficient and didn’t actually ADDRESS the issues the students brought to the deans. I think, anyway.

    • So, I understand needing some time to figure out exactly what happened and that this can be hard to do when the deans have other things to do for their job.

      That’s well and good.

      But like I said above, it should be possible to say something about hate, hate speech, etc., before knowing the exact circumstances.

      The fact that something(s) happened that made many students uncomfortable should be addressed, as well as the underlying issues, and this can be done before being able to deal with the specifics.

    • You do realize that this email response on Monday to which you referred devoted barely one sentence to the incident, right?

  10. I’m fed up with hearing about this incident without any mention of how Swarthmore students aggravated the situation by acting VIOLENTLY.

    I was witness to the events that transpired last Pub Night, and some crucial elements have been left out. Although the man with the confederate flag bandanna was first approached by Swarthmore students to put the bandanna away, and refused as far as I could tell, after that a second Swarthmore student reacted by yelling expletives at the visitor and threatening to punch him in the face. The two almost got into a fight and had to be pulled away from one another.

    Then later, after pub night had ended, another almost-fight occurred, a different Swarthmore student had to be physically restrained from assaulting the visitor, and after that the visitor finally left.

    My point is that we (Swarthmore students and myself included) did not respond appropriately, that in part our actions caused the situation to spin out of control and there hasn’t been enough discussion so far about what the correct reaction is. If someone is being offensive or belligerent to others, ask them to stop or leave. If they refuse, get a PA and get them to call Public Safety or call Public Safety yourself (obviously an apathetic Public Safety creates all kinds of other problems). But in the words of all first-grade teachers ever: violence is not a solution here.

    Also, in regards to this incident, why has there been so little discussion about one of most important underlying conflicts here: athletes vs. non-athletes on this campus?

    • why don’t you enlighten us. What does athletics have to do with a belligerent freshman from another school being a racist fool?

      • I’ll try. Based on my witnessing of this event and the Daily Gazette and Phoenix articles about it, it seems to me that many of the students who have worked hardest to bring this event to public attention (and they’re incredible efforts should be commended), are also close friends of the two Swarthmore students who tried to fight this visitor and the girl who was harassed by him. I would argue that the confrontation between this group of friends and the visitor’s group of friends stemmed from the fact that they are socially alienated from each other via the athlete/non-athlete division on this campus. Things would not have played out this way if they had mutual friends. I also think the mutual stereotyping of these two groups fueled the situation: he’s an ignorant frat boy/they’re self-conceited yuppies. I’m not saying this is the sole factor here or even the most important one, just a cultural division that I think needs larger attention at Swarthmore.

        Another way of putting it is this: why have the physical confrontations been so little reported? Why have the deans not spoken with the two Swarthmore students who initiated these physical confrontations about their way of handling this situation?

    • While I agree that it’s important to consider that part of the story, it’s ALSO important to consider why people might have an angry reaction to the incident. The Confederate flag can elicit INTENSE feelings of violation, lack of safety, affront, etc. and while obviously yelling expletives is not “civil discourse,” sometimes civil discourse is a ridiculous thing to expect from people in moments of justified anger. I was at pub nite and was not close enough to see what was going on, but could see the flag being waved around, and my reaction was not to go and ask them to politely put their flag away and cease their “USA” chants. Sometimes things cross such a line that expecting people, especially those for whom it might be a matter of personal sense of safety, self-worth, etc., is not fair. This sort of “be reasonable and measured” trope is one often leveled at marginalized people when their anger at being marginalized gets “out of hand” or “too emotional,” which ends up being extremely silences to the experiences of those who are justifiably angry.

      • That’s an excellent point, but it all depends on context of course too. It’s hard to say how drunk these two students were and how much that played into their responses. Also, where is the line drawn for justifiable anger? If one of these two students HAD punched the visitor in the face, would that be justified?
        I don’t mean to imply that I have answers to these questions, but I think they deserve consideration.

        You make an excellent point about this kind of rhetoric silencing marginalized people, but it’s very complicated to apply that to this situation. At a Swarthmore pub nite, I’d say that the man with the confederate flag is (thankfully)in the minority. Regardless, even forgiving these two students reactions, for the future, we ideally should try to prepare ourselves to respond in a way that will not aggravate the situation, and which will most expediently achieve the desired goal of removing the offending person.

        Let me just make it clear that I am sympathetic to Avery Davis and Kenneson Chen in this conflict, but that if we want to know how to deal with this type of situation in the future (and it will happen again), then we have to scrutinize not only the transgression, but the reaction to that transgression and whether it could be improved upon.

  11. Waving the flag was probably not a smart/nice thing to do at someone else’s school given many of its negative connotations. I think the larger problem however, is that people need to learn how to deal with problems on their own. Always running to administration and demanding/crying out for a response seems to be a common trend at this school. Outside the bubble of Swarthmore many of the people involved in this story are in for a rude awakening in terms of how to solve their problems

    • This sounds really defeatist.

      It seems that what you’re saying is because we wouldn’t be able to do so in “real life”, we shouldn’t try to get the administration to help us.

      Problems with this stance:
      1. Swarthmore does not need to be a microcosm of how the real world functions, because…
      2. …as an institution, the college administration is obligated to provide institutional support…we’re not a student-run college.
      3. Finally, what you’re saying kind of sounds like, “because things are bad and difficult to change, we should just let them stay that way.” If anything, that should be a call to further action, not giving up.

      • While I agree with many of your points and also stand with your call to action, I believe we should think of solutions to problems that do not involve the administration. One should always have the right and ability to change things for the better. My opinion however is that students at Swarthmore often times overreact to situations and run to the administration/public safety without taking personal responsibility to resolve the issue. The college administration is only there for four years of your life.

        • what about this issue, in particular? Telling the person to stop didn’t work. Attempted physical removal didn’t work. What are we supposed to do about it?

          • At the end of the day someone’s feelings were hurt. This incident at pub nite was such a big deal that according to some people they did not know anything had happened till the morning after. The flag was put away and at that point a drunken shouting match ensued. What has occurred at Swarthmore in the last few weeks in terms of waving the flag, hate speech, and vulgar graffiti is not something unique to this campus. Chances are we will encounter things like these outside of Swarthmore. They are unfortunate, but unavoidable. The administration has a purpose and duty to its students, but the line needs to be drawn as to when they are appropriately called upon. In my opinion the case of being offended does not cross that line.

          • This is meant as a reply to Dirty Harry’s post about being offended, but it wouldn’t let me reply directly.

            I strongly believe that these incidents go way beyond offensive. Symbols/words of violence/identity hatred/oppression call up the violence/hatred/oppression, such that people will often feel threatened in a very real, not insignificant, and unacceptable way.

            That is why these incidents require prompt institutional support. It’s not that someone hurt someone’s feelings, it’s that in what’s supposed to be something like a home away from home, people are experiencing that kind of threat.

    • Yes, but outside of Swarthmore people would go to HR. Or the police. The administration IS our HR, it is the only agency we can go to to file complaints (outside of going to the police, which does seem excessive most of the time).

  12. Swarthmore isn’t a utopian society, people.. I don’t mean this to offend anyone, but IMHO it seems like some of us have a tendency to over-react when situations like these happen. (Not trying to argue that there shouldn’t be efforts to fix issues at our school, but just saying we need to keep things in perspective.

    It seems like the goal for some people is to completely eliminate all offensive (or arguably non-pc) opinions/expressions/behavior altogether — mainly referring to this and the homophobic slur interest meeting. We have to keep in mind that there is/are people with opinions like these in ANY community. When you have a group this large there is bound to be people with opinions you would consider extreme (even if it is less than one percent of the community).

    The thing that really got me thinking about this was the homophobia interest meeting, which read: “Faggot! – At Swat… really?”
    Being a student of color, I can empathize with how it would feel for this to happen to me at a party. (I can imagine how I would feel if someone were to call me a nigger at a party hosted by the black cultural group…) However I think we also need to be more critical of our own reaction as a student body to incidents like these…

    One thing that rubbed me the wrong way was the second part of the header – “at Swat, really?” ~ to me this implies that Swarthmore is NOT the real world; to some extent this is true – there’s a reason this place is nicknamed “The Bubble.” However, I wonder whether or not it is healthy to become normalized to and/or have expectations that are not realistic – in that they are not in line with the rest of society. There are going to be people who don’t live up to our idealistic moral standards in the real world; as adults we need to learn how to react to situations like these in a more healthy and constructive manner.

    Swarthmore already has little enough traffic from outside of campus as is.. Walking around campus any time – other than the popular commutes to Sharples- and this place looks like a ghost town.. (At least, before these past couple of weeks of nice weather.) I was talking about this just yesterday with a friend, but doesn’t anybody else notice that 99% of our daily interactions are with Swatties & Swat-related people? There is hardly any non-swarthmore affiliated presence on campus at any time.

    Sorry for the rant..

    TLDR: It’s inevitable that we will encounter insensitive people (in the real world), we need to learn how to respond to incidents like these in a more healthy manner as a community. Swarthmore isn’t a utopia, and be careful about becoming normalized to lofty ideals.

    • Aside from the semantic issues of your comment, I’m curious what your ideas are on more appropriate ways to respond because you didn’t name any…

      • With all this hate going around campus, Swarthmore should hold the next Player Hater’s Ball… It would be a great space for people to voice their hate in a safe environment. Plus at the end of the gala we can pick the newest Player Hater of the Year! We can then have a ragging Paces party. Formal attire would obviously be required.

        Here is video of a previous year’s Player Hater’s Ball… I think this one was held at Haverford.

        Hate, hate, hate.

  13. It is disconcerting that some students feel there is not – or should not be – a bright line between speech and any physical altercation. There is.

    Speech and flag waving, on matter how obnoxious, is only speech.

    It does not physically hurt anyone. It is on a different plane than physical action: hitting someone or having to be physically restrained from hitting someone.

    To suggest that one (speech) ever justifies the other (a physical altercation) is damaging to the SWAT community – to any community.

    Maintaining a bright line between speech and physical violence is critical to any civilized society. Don’t try to blur it with excuses about “well, the speech was so terribly offensive”. Doesn’t matter.

    As long as the bright line is maintained, there can be discussion and debate of ideas. A civilized community can be maintained. There will not be random Lord of the Jungle determinations of “Oops, that was too offensive” and your nose is broken.

    Speech vs. physical violence is a clear line that everyone can recognize – everyone can know exactly where it is. Not just those with more evolved sensibilities.

    This bright line – it’s existence, importance, and breach – should be the main topic of discussion right now. Not hurt feelings.

    And this means it is the students who created a physical altercation who should currently be facing possible disciplinary action. (Not saying they should be disciplined, since luckily others seem to have stopped them from being violent, and perhaps from attempting to be violent). But more important than what words were spoken is whether physical violence occurred or was threatened, because this crosses the line from speech to physical assault and needs to be addressed appropriately.

    Whatever “speech” might have been occurring in their esteemed presence, no speech ever provides an excuse to cross the line into violence (or attempted violence) on campus. And once a physical assault has occurred, it IS normally a matter for the police.

    When you are out in the real world, no matter what you hear or see, remember this bright line. Or risk spending a night in jail.

    P.S. It is this bright line between speech and physical violence that allows the handicapped, the young and the weak to survive in this society – a society that is more fragile than you may imagine. (We are only just beginning to realize it’s fragility – thanks to the internet, the Arab Spring, and the looting of Footlocker stores.) One more reason to honor and strengthen this bright line, not try to destroy it.

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