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ABOUT TWO YEARS AGO, A NUMBER OF CAMOSUN COLLEGE EMPLOYEES STARTED A CAMPAIGN, NOT-IN-OUR-COLLEGE (NIOC), TO PROMOTE A CAMPUS CLIMATE THAT IS FREE OF HARASSMENT AND DISCRIMINATION, ONE WHICH RESPECTS AND CELEBRATES OUR DIFFERENCES. THE DIALOGUE BELOW CONCERNING "FREEDOM OF SPEECH" WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN NEXUS, THE NEWSPAPER OF THE CAMOSUN COLLEGE STUDENT SOCIETY. IN HIS LETTER TO THE EDITOR, MARK REDGWELL STATES HIS POINT TO WHICH GIRA BHATT RESPONDS, ON BEHALF OF THE NIOC.
OUR RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF SPEECH MUST BE WELL-GUARDED.
HATRED, PREJUDICE, AND DISCRIMINATORY ACTS MUST BE CHALLENGED RIGHT AT THE OUTSET, BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.
The Not In Our College (NIOC) slogan stating "Camosun College Does Not Tolerate Racism, Homophobia, Bigotry, or other Discriminatory Behaviour" is in itself not only discriminatory, but slightly chilling in its ambiguity. Racism, homophobia, and bigotry are beliefs not intrinsically discriminatory, although intolerance of these beliefs is. A homophobic person can think and speak of their beliefs and still not be discriminating. However, the intolerant slogan that NIOC has chosen to create more diversity is, by definition, a bigoted ... statement.
The things that Camosun purports to not tolerate are extremely subjective and abstract ideas, especially the phrase "other discriminatory behaviour." Who judges what is to be discriminatory behaviour? Who decides what is acceptable and unacceptable discrimination and why? No doubt the architects of the intolerance campaign meant discrimination as in "unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of prejudice." Could one not argue that disallowing men to vote for the Women's Executive (although they must pay for it‹taxation without representation) or to enter the Women's Centre is discrimination as well as sexism? Furthermore, one could argue that it is discrimination and racism to prevent non-natives from voting for the First Nations Executive.
It is dangerous to have a rule to not tolerate discrimination and then turn around and allow some "good" or acceptable discrimination to flourish. It is not only inconsistent, it opens the door for whoever is in power to put their spin on what is polite and allowable, and what is evil and not to be tolerated. Before the rise of the Nazis, Germany had anti-hate propaganda laws that were broader and more strict than anything we have here in Canada. Over a 15 year period, 200 prosecutions of anti-Semitic propaganda took place; 90 percent of them were viewed favourably by the Jewish community.
These restrictions on free expression did nothing to prevent the atrocities committed by the Nazis and set in place a precedent for the restriction of free speech. Those in power could then redefine what was acceptable speech, and what was not. From there, it was only a small step to deciding what was acceptable behaviour, and who were acceptable people.
I would like to see Camosun's intolerance campaign take on a more concrete, tangible, and positive form. For example, "we do not tolerate physical violence" is a concrete statement I could
back wholeheartedly and without reservation. Pro-active statements such as "that person you are judging is more than their race, more than their gender" or "people are not who you think they are, they are who they are," model and encourage the kinds of behaviour that are essential in eliminating discrimination and encouraging diversity. This approach battles intolerance with tolerance.
I am suspicious of any movement that might censor free speech, especially in an educational institution where students go to experience diversity. I imagine the spirit behind the NIOC campaign is to increase tolerance for diversity, and if that is so then they should be complimented for their efforts. However, one cannot increase tolerance through intolerance. And putting up posters that proclaim Camosun College's intolerance, does not inspire me to be tolerant.
A concerned student,
On behalf of the Not-In-Our-College (NIOC), I wish to address some of the issues raised by Mark Redgwell concerning discrimination and freedom of speech. ("NIOC under fire": Dec. 8, '98).
Mark Redgwell argues that the NIOC's agenda represents "intolerance." In his words, "I am suspicious of any movement that might censor free speech especially in an educational institution". He further states that "racism, homophobia, and bigotry are beliefs that are not intrinsically discriminatory, although intolerance of these beliefs is."
I agree that there is a difference between "prejudice" and "discrimination." Prejudice is in one's thoughts and feelings (attitude). Discrimination is in one's act, an act of treating individuals unfairly simply
because they belong to a particular social group. An example of prejudice is "Gays are all sick men. I can't stand them." To assault or shout abusive words at a gay man is discrimination. Yes, it is possible to hold prejudicial thoughts and emotions without acting on them and it is possible to act discriminatorily without holding prejudicial thoughts. It may be then argued that since prejudicial thoughts may not necessarily result in acts of discrimination, why must we guard against the nurturing of prejudiced thinking? Also, since discrimination may occur without an accompanied prejudiced thought or intent, why must we get alarmed? In sum, why not tolerate it all?" as Mark Redgwell argues.
What is wrong with this argument? I believe that it represents a rather simplistic view of "freedom of expressions' ideal." As enlightened critical thinkers of the society, we cannot afford to indulge in the luxury of the sheer logic of these ideals without looking at the deeper dynamics that affect people's
social worlds, often in a tragic way. For example, ethnic wars‹whether in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Somalia, or in the Nazi era‹did not result overnight or from one individual exercising his/her right of freedom of expression. So how did it happen?... How did the hatred escalate to the extent of brutal tortures and mass killings of innocent human beings? There are of course, various social and political factors that may account for such tragedies. However, applied research has strongly indicated that large scale inter-group conflicts such as "ethnic cleansing" do not occur overnight. They begin on a very small scale and gradually build up over time...
When political, social, and economic climates deteriorate, prejudice soon finds its expression, i.e. discrimination. The discrimination too does not occur overnight. It begins on a very small scale, often seeming benign, and relatively harmless. The Nazi acts began with simple restrictions such as curfew hours for Jews, mandatory labels on sleeves and houses, long before the rounding up of the Jews for concentration camps occurred.
If we learn any lesson from the history of large scale tragedies in our social worlds, it would be that hatred, prejudice, and discriminatory acts must be challenged... as soon as they are spotted... This is what NIOC is about. NIOC's agenda is to create awareness towards human diversity as a fact of life and use positive, preventive approaches to make our campus free of hatred and discrimination.
Dr. Gira Bhatt is with the Department of Psychology at Camosun College.
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