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Author Topic: Conversation "facilitators"
G2
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From the North we find the first steps into thought police:
quote:
The Kingston university has hired student facilitators to step in when they overhear homophobic slurs, remarks bashing women or racially tinged insults, along with an array of other language that could be deemed offensive.
So far it appears that the penalty for these transgressions is to be 'called out' which may make the person "uncomfortable". I guess that means they'll try to publicly embarrass or humiliate them. They're supposed to provide structured settings for appropriate topics that can be addressed properly. Very Orwellian. It also looks like these guys are supposed to interrupt conversations when they hear "offensive" comments ... that's a little confrontational.

Among the topics that are out of bounds:
quote:
If a student uses the phrase "That's so gay" in conversation.

If a student calls someone or something "retarded."

If a student writes a homophobic, racist or other derogatory remark in a public space, such as on a residence poster or classmate's door.

If a student avoids a classmate's birthday party for faith-based reasons.

Avoiding a party for faith based reasons is offensive? I wonder what other faith based activities will be offensive...

The article tells us "Intergroup dialogue programs are well established at many universities in the United States". I wonder when they'll start monitoring personal conversations for appropriate speech here?

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Finvarra
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Do you have a problem with a professor saying something if he or she overhears a student saying something racist and rude in public, loud enough for other students to hear? Pretty sure most would, and I think should. The university wants to promote an environment not hostile to minorities, and students are more likely to listen to other students that say "You know its actually offensive to use the word 'gay' that way then if a teacher just yells at a kid for being rude.

I don't think this means that the "conversation police" are going to be sniffing around eavesdropping looking to embarrass people, they have no authority, and are simply an organized group trying to combat the racist/homophobic/other stuff we say when most of us, or atleast many of us, aren't really racist.

"If a student avoids a classmate's birthday party for faith-based reasons."

I assume that that's a weird way of saying religious intolerance is included the list of racism, sexism, etc. There is does sound a little general.

"The article tells us "Intergroup dialogue programs are well established at many universities in the United States". I wonder when they'll start monitoring personal conversations for appropriate speech here?"

Yeah, and goes on to say "But many of those consist of credit courses taught by faculty members or student facilitators who have received rigorous training over several semesters in a classroom environment."

Certainly not the same thing. The next point in the article is a fair one though, as these students only undertake an 11 day training program and if done properly this might do more harm than good.

I don't mind the principle though. You can still be racist and sexist in private.

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Haggis
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That's totally retarded.
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scifibum
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I think this amount of effort at enforcing PC is overboard.
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G2
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quote:
Originally posted by Finvarra:
I don't mind the principle though.

The principle is exactly what I oppose. Would you like it if I was the one deciding what is or is not offensive? Who gets to decide what is appropriate conversation to have?
quote:
Originally posted by Finvarra:
You can still be racist and sexist in private.

For how long?
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Lina Inverse
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People have the right to say whatever they want. If you use your freedom of speech to say something offensive, you've got to deal with the fact that other people can use their freedom of speech to tell you that they found it offensive and why. "Being comfortable" is not a right; if you're going to say nasty things in front of other people, you need to put on your big girl panties and deal with the consequences.

I do agree that the birthday party example is awfully bizarre, though; there are plenty of faith-based reasons not to attend a birthday party that most people would not consider derogatory, offensive, or hateful.

[Edited to clarify a horribly awkward sentence.]

[ November 19, 2008, 06:31 PM: Message edited by: Lina Inverse ]

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RickyB
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I just find it sad they have to institutionalize and organize it. I do it on my own [Smile]
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Everard
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"For how long?"

Keep people like Bush out of office, and probably for a long time. After all, this is people targeting public remarks... unlike Bush, who thought that warrantless information gathering on private conversations is perfectly acceptable.

In fact, I seem to recall you supporting that...

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G2
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as always, you simplify to absurdity ...
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Everard
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Interesting. I thought I pointed out the fact that you are railing against something perfectly legal because of fear of big brother... after defending ACTUAL big brother actions.

Sorry for simplifying your concerns to show absurdity on your part.

[ November 19, 2008, 06:37 PM: Message edited by: Everard ]

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G2
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does that kind of thing still work on the playground?
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Gaoics79
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quote:
She said that facilitators who haven't been trained properly could end up reinforcing defence mechanisms of privileged students.

"White males say 'This is more white-male bashing.' What are they learning from that? Reinforcement of defensiveness rather than opening up and exploring is the consequence."

I like this automatic characterization of all white males as privileged. Yup, doesn't matter where they came from, how much or little money they have, they are "privileged".

And imagine that, some of them have the nerve to feel like they are being unfairly attacked by this Feminazi, lol.

But back to the original point of the article, I don't want, nor need the nanny language police protecting me from overhearing an offensive statement, even if it's against my own ethnic group. If someone says something bad about Jews, or even slurs us "privileged" white males, I know how to walk in the opposite direction.

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Finvarra
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"The principle is exactly what I oppose. Would you like it if I was the one deciding what is or is not offensive? Who gets to decide what is appropriate conversation to have?"

The University gets to decide what conversation is appropriate in public at the University. That is not the same thing as you deciding what I can say in my house, nor is the University banning certain phrases, but addressing them.

Sci Fi -

"I think this amount of effort at enforcing PC is overboard."

I dunno. At an office you can't say certain things because its just not good for the atmosphere. I don't see why the University can't take that position.

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Everard
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As long as it remains public conversations, I have no problem with this. As Finvarra points out, promoting a good learning atmosphere is well within the scope of interest for a university. Organizing people to help do that is reasonable. I suspect it will work over the long run, but not the short run.
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Ikemook
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quote:
I don't see why the University can't take that position.
Because universities are supposed to be places of free and open dialogue. Speech codes (and this is very similar to, if not precisely that) go against the very principles that are supposed to be part of the university.

I could understand if the university students themselves decided to politely confront those they found offensive. But the university *itself* organizing a force of "facilitators" under its own control? No question, that's asking for trouble.

That's not to say, however, that everything this group is doing is wrong. Putting up posters that emphasize tolerance is okay. Furthermore, I can understand, say, a Resident Assistant confronting a resident who uses derogatory language in a dorm, or who writes derogatory language on a poster (I had to deal with a similar issue in my hall, when I was [briefly] an RA). Requiring people presenting in university sponsored assemblies to refrain from derogatory language is fine, too. There are a number of things a university can do to promote tolerance that don't violate the freedom of its students to speak.

But confronting publicly on campus? If a member of the student body is offended by such speech, then they should speak out themselves against it (politely, and without inciting violence). They have the freedom to do that, just as much as the individual speaking derogatory words has the freedom to use them.

--David

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Pete at Home
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"If a student avoids a classmate's birthday party for faith-based reasons."

The only thing I can think of that fits there is Jehovah's Witnesses avoiding birthdays because their faith teaches them that it's wrong to celebrate birthdays.

If that's a rule to prevent religious intolerance, then it seems strangely written instead to pick on one unpopular minority religion.

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Pete at Home
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I personaly don't see anything about the other three forbidden utterances that would be essential to the goal of a university.

" If a student uses the phrase "That's so gay" in conversation.

If a student calls someone or something "retarded."

If a student writes a homophobic, racist or other derogatory remark in a public space, such as on a residence poster or classmate's door."

I don't think that a university that takes steps to stamp those three items out from public discussions is harming free and open dialog. Monitoring of personal private conversations would be going too far, but is the university really doing that?

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Haggis
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From the link:
quote:
"If people are having a conversation with offensive content and they're doing it loud enough for a third person to hear it ... it's not private," said Jason Laker, dean of student affairs at Queen's.
A conversation is considered "public" if someone else can hear it.
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Ikemook
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As I said earlier, I have little issue with this, so long as "public space" means places like dorm room doors and residence posters. RAs should already be watching out for that kind of thing.

And its not so much that these examples directly have to do with the university's role. It's a question of what is considered derogatory, who gets to decide, and who has the power to enforce it. The university should not be deciding what is and is not appropriate speech in the public forum. I can understand asking RAs to intervene in dorms. I can understand asking speakers at assemblies to refrain from derogatory language. But language in the general public forum--as people move between classes, talk with their friends under trees and in lawns--is frankly scary. What is considered derogatory, hurtful, or not conducive to discussion is open to interpretation, and can change fairly frequently (especially in Academia!). Heck, Funean called you out for suggesting that gay marriage isn't a civil rights issue! You obviously disagree with that interpretation.

Would you like it if a university approved and sponsored monitor came up and confronted you over it, over how "hurtful" it makes others feel?

[Side note: not saying that I disagree with Funean on whether or not SSM is a civil rights issue, or whether or not that statement was offensive to her. Just making a point.]

Like I said, if university students wanted to take a stand against this kind of language, that's fine. But it's not the university's place to call its students out on their language in public forums. In dorms? Sure. Put up posters? Wonderful! But a university should be a place where you can float any idea, even offensive ones, and say what you want, even if its offends someone. And I suppose that's what really gets me--it's that the core justification here seems to be that this language offends people.

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Gaoics79
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I've been following a parallel thread on another Canadian message board I frequent. Here's the link:

Lawbuzz

What's remarkable about this is the degree of consensus you see. Keep in mind that in Canada, a guy like Everard would probably be considered centrist, and KE would be a radical right-winger, LOL.

Here's a great quote from the board's equivalent of Funean, which I think says it better than I can:

quote:
Standing up for yourself and confronting a bigoted classmate who has offended you is an exercise in character development, snooping into peoples private conversations as a paid enforcer of the university's "speech code" is something else entirely. Something rodent like.

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Funean
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To clarify (and only because it is relevant to this conversation [Smile] ) I didn't object to Pete's possible opinion about whether marriage is or is not a civil right--that's something that affects us both equally--or even whether the right to use a particular term is a civil right. That is, after all, the crux of much of the debate. What I objected to was what I saw as a snide "tone," derisively applied to one side of the opinion divide.

I raise this only because, as we try to do here, people can and do discuss controversial issues and opinions that are offensive or even hurtful to one party or another in ways that are not themselves offensive or hurtful. That's what civil discourse *is*.

While I think it can be taken too far, it is the case that colleges and universities are tasked with keeping people from a variety of backgrounds living and working together in peace. Commonly, the majority of these individuals are quite young, and maturity levels vary, as does exposure to different cultural, religious and ethnic background. For many young people, college is not only the first time they've lived without parental oversight but the first time they've ever spent any time around people who are very different from them. It behooves the institution to support the promulgation of good manners and empathy to the way language affects people. What's just talking trash with your buds at home may well get you shot in some neighborhoods, and how you talk with your girlfriends might cost your job later on.

edit: jasonr, that's an awesome quote and I completely agree with it. I hope what you mean by "version of <me>" is a good thing... [Eek!] [Wink]

[ November 19, 2008, 07:48 PM: Message edited by: Funean ]

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Gaoics79
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quote:
edit: jasonr, that's an awesome quote. I hope what you mean by "version of <me>" is a good thing...
I thought it was, but from your last post, it sounds to me like you are disagreeing with your non-unionized Canadian equivalent. Which is a paradox, when you think about it, because by virtue of being Canadian, she must be much further to the left than you (you are a radical right winger by Canadian standards) so it's all the more puzzling that you would support leftie thought police but she wouldn't!!!

edit: wait a sec, you just said you agreed with her. But didn't your last post say that you could see the merits of such a policy, if not taken too far? I'm confused.

[ November 19, 2008, 07:52 PM: Message edited by: jasonr ]

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Funean
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I don't (agree with the policy as described). [Smile] I support workshops, etc., and helping punk kids learn how to express themselves in ways that are more conducive to living in a civilized society, whether that's how not to inadvertantly (or advertantly) be a jerk or how to productively handle someone who's being a jerk around you. But not creepy speech-cops and awkward ad hoc tribunals. I can see how the line could get blurred by the inept and/or young, though.

I don't support warrantless wire-tapping, either.

[ November 19, 2008, 07:55 PM: Message edited by: Funean ]

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Ikemook
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quote:
What I objected to was what I saw as a snide "tone," applicable to one side of the debate.
Ah, I stand corrected. My misunderstanding. Pete, ignore that part of my post ^_~

quote:
While I think it can be taken too far, it is the case that colleges and universities are tasked with keeping people from a variety of backgrounds living and working together in peace.
And "peace" is the key word here. You can live in peace without having to police what people say in public. I can understand, say, keeping police officers around during a rally or demonstration, in case tempers start to flare. But having what amounts to spies on the lookout for offensive language seems to me to be hardly in line with keeping the peace.

quote:
Commonly, the majority of these individuals are quite young, and maturity levels vary, as does exposure to different cultural, religious and ethnic background. For many young people, college is not only the first time they've lived without parental oversight but the first time they've ever spent any time around people who are very different from them. It behooves the institution to support the promulgation of good manners and empathy to the way language affects people.
All of which can be done without university-sponsored officials confronting people on the street. The group of individuals mentioned in the article are already doing a number of things to accomplish just that--putting up posters, for example.

quote:
What's just talking trash with your buds at home may well get you shot in some neighborhoods, and how you talk with your girlfriends might cost you job later on.
Not to sound heartless, but so? If certain language will get someone near the university shot, then let the students know ahead of time. If they get themselves shot, well, they were warned.

If the shooting occured on campus, then you have VASTLY bigger problems then poor language use ^_~

And if you use derogatory language in the workplace, and you get fired, that's life. Certainly, universities can make students aware of this, but I don't see why they need to have other students policing the language.

You wouldn't put this power in the hands of the government. Why put it in the hands of the university, where free speech is as, if not more, important?

If someone makes erroneous statements, correct them. If someone makes a false reference, confront them. If someone says something derogatory, let them know. Repeatedly, if you have to. But don't leave it up to the university.

--David

[edited to add: Okay, just saw your most recent post. And I agree with you. Workshops, posters, RAs who actually pay attention and do their jobs. All good. Speech cops? Baaaad.]

[ November 19, 2008, 07:58 PM: Message edited by: Ikemook ]

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Everard
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"If someone says something derogatory, let them know. Repeatedly, if you have to"

It seems like this is exactly what the university in question is doing.

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Ikemook
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quote:
It seems like this is exactly what the university in question is doing.
And as I have repeatedly argued (or at least tried to argue ^_~) it's not the university's place to be doing it.
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Everard
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You seem to be agreeing that RA's should reprimand people for saying derogatory things in dorms, so they're already doing it. And you think its appropriate. At least if I'm reading you correctly.
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Funean
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I suspect this is the unfortunate intersection of the semi in loco parentis role that universities wind up playing as everyone adjusts to the transition from sheltered teen to young adult, and frantic litigation-fearful general counsels.

I think it is the university's role to help teach young people how to empower themselves; as a parent I can see how easy it is to slip into simply doing it for them. It remains something to be avoided, though.

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Ikemook
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quote:
You seem to be agreeing that RA's should reprimand people for saying derogatory things in dorms, so they're already doing it. And you think its appropriate. At least if I'm reading you correctly.
Yes, I do agree with that. The key word here being "in dorms." I agree because I agree that somewhat stricter measures are needed in order to keep the peace in the very locations where students are *living*. And to be quite frank, I'm still a little uncomfortable with the idea.

Having university employed students out amongst the crowds, though, confronting people over the kinds of speech that the university has decided is derogatory, offensive, or bad is a bit different.

I'd be willing to alter my argument, to say that private universities can do what this article describes. I would rather they didn't, but they are private institutions.

--David

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Pete at Home
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I agree with Dave that there's a distinction between folks who officially represent the university in some capacity, i.e. the RAs, and some sort of university secret police. The latter idea seems maoist, particularly when combined with the public humilliation for private utterances.
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Finvarra
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Ikemook -

I don't think the fact that it is a public university is important, although it is harder perhaps to make the argument against a private institution. Even in public schools certain "rights" are relaxed, e.g. you dont need a warrant to search a locker, or even a car (at least in New Jersey) because keeping the school a drug free enviornment is that important. Hate speech is also not conducive to learning, as students that feel attacked or marginalized will not feel comfortable in their community for four years.

I agree that the bit about not going to bday party is weird. Probably not one of the main points of this, just someone saying something stupid when put on the spot by the reporter to explain what sort of things would be targeted.

Personally I think workshops or lectures encouraging students to not allow friends to make racist jokes without comment, and to avoid using language like "that's so gay" which can honestly be tough when most of your friends do it, might be better, but having a few students set an example of this might get results.

Even if it becomes something of a joke among the stduent body, it will still get people to think about the issue. Even us white priveleged males.

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Finvarra
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"The latter idea seems maoist, particularly when combined with the public humilliation for private utterances."

Just to be clear on what constitutes public humiliation here, its being called out on negative behavior in front of people. Its something that should be done. It makes the person feel, as they should be feeling, awkward.

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Finvarra
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"If a student writes a homophobic, racist or other derogatory remark in a public space, such as on a residence poster or classmate's door."

Does anyone else think this belongs in a different category, and writing "ni-ger" on a black kid's door is pretty obviously a punishable offense?

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TommySama
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At one of the dorms at my university last year, my friend's friend got kicked out of the dorms (and I think out of the school, but I can't recall exactly) because he wrote "you're a c*nt" or something on the whiteboard on his friends door, which unfortunately for him some sensitive girl walked by and filed a complaint.

This policy doesn't seem so bad to me. It would only bug me if the students right to say these kinds of things were challenged. It may even help stimulate thought in these kids, which is to me is the point of going to college. You are going to get called out in real life for saying stuff like this, might as well get practice defending your reasons for saying it.

In my Psych discussion last week a kid in another group said, "yeah, our group was super gay." My friend and I cracked up, but the flamboyantly gay kid in our group looked uncomfortable. Nobody said anything in response, which I thought was interesting.

Take what I say with a grain of salt. I am a guy who will defend saying "don't be such a Jew" with "I've ****ed more Jews than you even know, back off."

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hobsen
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The birthday party bit is weird, and if aimed at Jehovah's Witnesses probably illegal as religious discrimination. And "That's so gay" and "retard," are not literal usually, so lots of luck eliminating them from popular speech. In fact a friend in Montreal told me "That's so gay" is a compliment, praising a campy style, so it is hard to construe as an insult.

But even when I was in a dormitory more than fifty years ago there was a provision that a student could be thrown out for anything which broke the law. Scrawling "whore" on a woman's door is a tort under civil law, and she can sue the perpetrator for damages. Scrawling "nigger" on a black man's door is a hate crime, and the perpetrator can be sent to prison. And a university must show that it is trying to prevent such illegal behavior in order to avoid paying damages to those offended by the messages. So Finvarra seems to me right that on this point the university is merely trying to fulfill its obligations under the law. Perhaps it could go about the matter better, but doing something is mandatory.

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RickyB
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" If a student avoids a classmate's birthday party for faith-based reasons."

This is way over the line. If an orthodox yid doesn't bother with your birthday because he can't eat or drink anything anyway, and really doesn't want to make your birthday about him by asking that you hassle to provide him kosher fare, than he has that right.

People always overdo things But then, like I said, if you need this thing to come from above you've pretty much lost already. If enough good people had balls to go with their hearts, this would rarely if ever be necessary.

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