Hating Speech: A Linguist’s Perspective

By Cary Campbell

Our campus is blessed with many language experts and speakers of a diversity beyond the French, Spanish and Japanese we offer for study.  But unless I’m mistaken, I may be the only one here with a BA and MA in linguistics.  Linguistics is different from the study of individual languages because it attempts to understand the meaning-making coding systems—sonic, phonetic, logical, cognitive, and social—underlying the miraculous human phenomenon of speech rather than merely attempting to gain skill in using any given one of them.

One of the most useful principles I discovered in my first linguistics classes was the distinction between prescription and description.  As budding linguists, we learned that although there was value to the wonderful English Department experts who loved to prescribe “rules” for good writing and good speaking, we needed a more scientific approach.  To avoid introducing our own biases which would color our analysis, we had to take language samples as evidence and extrapolate “rules” based on describing what people actually do, rather than how we think they should.  We found that when we temporarily suspended our judgment for the time that we wanted to study something, we could more accurately understand its nature.  Now whether or not something makes sense or has a consistent internal logic from an insider perspective, a broader English-speaking community in which we’re all agents still can’t accept every new development as “grammatical”, or “good grammar”, or “safe for work”, etc.  So after this period of study is complete, re-engaging that faculty of judgment has its rightful place—we can accept or reject things based on our own sense of what is good and right, but after the study time our standing to do so increased because we could now do it in full understanding of the phenomena, having done the work of objectively ascertaining the truth first.

I also learned that any linguistic communication requires a minimum of two interlocutors, one who performs the work of fleshing out a message in a mutually understood code, and the second who interprets.  This implies something fundamental: that the control of the speaker/writer who intends to mean something ends as soon as this intention-to-mean is fleshed out in code and enters the medium of transmission.  Interpreting a message is an active faculty of the receiver over which the sender has no control whatsoever.  This principle has consequences.  Although message senders are responsible for their word choices, we can now no longer think of the words in a simple way.  They are no longer transparent and direct, but partial, inadequate to our full meaning, and most importantly, shared.  Receivers are therefore are not passive recipients, but co-constructors of meaning in a negotiation and have vast capacity to either clarify or distort by the kinds of assumptions and experiences they bring to this double-variable equation.  The implication of this consequence is that receivers of messages should never assume they have captured the messages as intended until they check.

It is with the understanding of these twin principles (description before prescription and meaning-making as a tango that it takes two for), that I’d like to offer what I hope can be a useful reflection.  It occurs to me that some of the debates we engage in as the active world-changing leaders we’re attempting to become, (as students and faculty alike), sometimes tip over into the violation of these two principles of objectivity and shared responsibility for message communication.  I’m particularly concerned about the use of the label “hate speech”, when it is applied as a value-judgment prior to demonstrating an objective and neutral understanding of the speech.  This label does more than flout the objectivity principle.  It also sets up a dichotomy in which the message-maker is an aggressor and the message-interpreter is a victim before the objective analysis of relative position is complete.  This can be particularly pernicious because it sets up relative positions between two interlocutors in such a way that even an innocent and appropriate question about the responsibility—which is shared in any communication, remember—addressed to the interpretative side of this communication equation can’t avoid looking like “victim blaming”.

Now, human beings in general and Antiochians especially do have value-judgments and should operate according to their consciences and according to the honor code.  But to apply these before demonstrating understanding is potentially damaging both to the individual interlocutors and to the community because it tends to maintain biases and prevent dialog on the substance of the message in question.

Let me be clear: it IS an unethical bullying tactic to blame victims for their own victimization.  I’m not suggesting we just let that kind of bullying logic slide.  Quite the opposite in fact, I strongly condemn it.  But it’s also true that if we meet bullying speech with prescriptive speech and with a shutting down of one side of the communicative equation, we’ve behaved like speech bullies ourselves.  And not only that, but applying the label “hate speech” also prevents full and accurate exposure of ideas, and some ideas that are truly hateful deserve to be exposed as such.  Our potential allies may need to clearly see the fully exposed evil behind some ideas in order to truly and fully join us in condemnation of them.  In other words, unless we can choose to respect speech as speech, and concentrate our condemnation and activism on unethical actions rather than on unethical speech, we may actually be shooting our own cause in the proverbial foot.  

When ideas are free to compete because the speech that communicates them is fully free, we, as moral agents who are also free to believe as we choose, are more likely to be persuaded by the best ideas and intrinsically motived to uphold and disseminate them.  We make more effective advocates and leaders this way because our cause-mates and followers magnify the cause’s power and add to solidarity because they believe in the ideas or our cause themselves, rather than merely supporting our own personal power because they believe in us, or in the solidarity of the movement.

As a person who truly believes in all of our great nation’s First Amendment as the best and only way to prevent groups of people (whether they be mobs, tyrants, or even legitimate governments) from exercising control over thoughts and consciences that properly belongs to free individuals, I think it’s vital that we commit to seeking clarity before agreement—even if it clearly offends us—and that we choose to truly listen harder when we disagree.  I think that as we do so, we’ll find our agreements deeper, and our disagreements more fruitful to work through.

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Vestige Of Dead Past Rises From Institutional Grave

By Elijah Blanton ’15 and Marianthe Bickett ’15 with help from Ozrich Du Sable ’16

The purpose of community government to allow for the agency of students, staff and faculty in shaping our campus and culture was and is a significant part of Antioch’s mission. The role of Community Manager (CM) was a central component of the Community Government (CG) structure before the closure, providing extensive oversight and continuity between all the pieces of the complex structure.

The CM sat on both ComCil and AdCil and was a paid, full-time position typically filled by a student for one year post-graduation. The process of selecting the community manager shifted throughout our recent history from being hired through ComCil to being elected by the entire Antioch community. The community manager’s role also shifted from being filled by one student to being shared by a collective of two to four people in the specific roles of office, events, and community manager. Sifting through old CM manuals and job descriptions in Antiochiana, we found that the CM also worked to create positive campus morale and was integral in maintaining our relationship with the Village.

Of course, governance is different now; our Antioch’s system is based on the old CG model, but it employs a Dean of Community Life as well as a Community Council President and several other student employees to handle the responsibilities once under the purview of the CM. Wondering if this position might benefit the new Community Government, we spoke with Community Council Treasurer Jane Foreman to gain some insight into recurring issues of our fledgling structure. During our discussion, the treasurer talked on the problems that persist despite its committed employees and committee members. 

“The main problem in ComCil” Jane told us “is that there’s no institutional memory. There’s very little history or awareness of the way it’s set up or procedures of what we’re supposed to use.” Even with strong leadership and oversight, it seems, discontinuity is still an issue, “even the ComCil president, with 10 or 15 hours a week, is still a full-time student with other responsibilities to handle…sometimes transition documents just aren’t enough.” Speculating on how the system could be improved, Jane shared that “it would be nice to have at least one person who has a really firm grasp of the situation—someone whose full-time job is to keep things going.”

CG’s structural problems often arise from the constant shifts and turnover created by the quarter system and co-op. It’s our opinion that an extended full-time position like the CM would address this issue, as well as create further bonds between our campus and the wider village, and act as a uniting figure through the inevitable tensions that arise in our shared venture. Our history is one of the great resources we have available here. Both to honor the past and to make our systems the most effective they can be, we believe it’s important to build this college in a way that draws on that rich heritage.

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From the Editor

Dear community, 

In an exciting and totally unprecedented turn of events, I would like to recognize and thank everyone who has participated in some capacity with The Record this term. Everyone who has pitched story ideas, written content, proofread, contributed a letter or an article, taken photos, done layout, or been a reader has helped made this paper possible. You make made job worthwhile, and you help preserve snippets of Antioch on paper for future readers. 

The Record has been reborn for a year now, appearing more or less consistently a couple times each quarter. This is our ninth edition. It’s easy to get lost in how much we still have to learn, but right now I think it’s more important to look at how much we have accomplished in the past year. 

As I prepare for co-op and pass The Record into new hands, I would like to encourage everyone to continue to be involved. You help make a paper reflective of what the community values possible. 

Thanks again,

Keegan Smith-Nichols ’17

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Dearest Daily: A Community Advice Column

Hello and welcome to “Dearest Daily”. Nothing that is said in this column should be accepted as reflective of the views of Residence Life, Community Life, or Antioch College. I am not a professionally trained counselor and am offering support to people who have questions or concerns that they believe others may also be experiencing. With that, we have our third edition of “Dearest Daily!”

Dearest Daily,

My friends often leave me out of activities, and I don’t know if it’s intentional or not. How do I tell them I want to be included?! Sincerely, Left Out Lots

Dear LOL,

I think that this is a serious concern that many of us have. Just last week I had a situation where I was out and my friends were out and they were concerned that they were excluded. The truth is that I thought they were out of town, so I didn’t think to invite them. I think it is healthy to talk to your friends about what your concerns are. You could maybe even give some context as to why you may be feeling these ways. Perhaps former friends knowingly excluded you from activities. Asking questions in a non-confrontational and vulnerable way is one way that I’ve seen it work in the past. Remember: Friendships should be able to handle challenging conversations, so don’t blame yourself if this person (these people) doesn’t want to be your friend after asking to be included more often. There are other people around that are there for you!

Open Up,

Daily

Dearest Daily,

How do I tell my parents that I love them even if I don’t text them every day? I’ve been gone from home a few months, and they still haven’t gotten over it. Sincerely, Tell Everyone in Xenia To Make Eggs

Dear TEXT ME,

Thank you for sharing your issue, I know there are people on campus who have had to navigate this issue, (including me!). It sounds like your parents love and care about you deeply! Perhaps they are experiencing the standard “Empty Nest Syndrome,” or they’re realizing that their child becoming an adult. Families and their importance in our lives are different for each of us based on culture, family make-up and much more. I think that one way I have seen successful is by coming up with a schedule for you to facetime, skype or chat with your parents where you and they can see each other and talk about the goings on since the last time you talked. You could also ask them to text/call you when they’re thinking about you and commit to texting/calling them back when you have a chance. Remember: It’s a continual process to shift your relationship with your parents and while you’re going through this new experience in college, they’re also experiencing a transition in the way(s) that their parenting style will change. They can’t know how you feel unless you tell them, though! 

Speak Up,

Daily

Dearest Daily,

How can you give someone feedback about their communication style being annoying/inappropriate without offending them? Sincerely, Hoping to Honestly Help

Dear Triple H,

I think a good deal of us think that because we know how to say words means that we know how to communicate, and I appreciate your willingness to give yourself room to try to discover how to offer support to a friend without hurting their feelings. Let me answer your question with a question: Would you tell your friend that they have something in their teeth? How? You don’t want to shame your friend for not noticing, but you also want to help them avoid the embarrassment of finding out before dinner that they still had leftovers from lunch in their teeth. I find that if you’re coming from a loving and supportive place, people (especially friends) tend to respect that position. 

That being said, I think it could also be helpful for you to reflect on your view of the situation and whether this feedback will be constructive or not because you describe your friend’s communication style as “annoying”. I think if you can refer to specific instances where your friend’s words/tone has been inappropriate or offensive, using non-judgemental language and without making statements that are too general (“you always…etc.”) when giving constructive, you have a better chance of making sure that you are being truly supportive of your friend without alienating them. I honestly hope that helps!

Give feedback,

Daily

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Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

I remember the first year I came to Antioch. Everyone was excited about it; we were ready to take on this obstacle called college, but not only that, we were ready to take on the obstacle of restarting a college. From what I hear of the class ahead of me we had it easy. Still, there was positive energy within the class to make a difference here. It may have been because my class was the majority of the student population then (being 74 out of approximately 100 students), but the atmosphere itself seemed charged with this positive energy. Now, it does not.

I am not sure when this feeling changed—sometime in the second year, I think. When did going to classes become “ugh” and participating in extra-curriculars be “haha yeah right”? When did the administration’s words become “bullshit” and any tiny problem that popped up become “Antioch sucks”? The thing is, this does not seem specific to my class. I see this in all of the students, even some of the first-years. The general atmosphere I sense at Antioch now is not one of positive energy, excitement to take on this challenge called Antioch, or even that people enjoy being at Antioch. Instead, I can’t sit at a lunch table without hearing why Antioch sucks and that people wish they had chosen differently.

When was the last time you truly appreciated Antioch? Did you express it? Why not? People here seem to express a lot of the negative things, but never the positive ones. For me, Antioch is an amazing place. This community has taught me more than many of my classes. However, this community has also made me become a recluse, staying in my room the majority of the time and resenting when I cannot because I am so sick and tired of hearing people bash a college I love.  

Antioch College has offered me a FREE—let me say this again, FREE—education. Sure, room and board is something people have to pay, it’s not entirely free, but it is still so much better than going to almost any other college in the United States. WE ARE SO PRIVILEGED TO HAVE THIS OPPORTUNITY. Privilege is talked about frequently here, so let me repeat this. We, the students, are privileged to be able to go to college without paying ANY tuition. This is not because we had a high GPA in high school, or because we did well on standardized tests (though I’m positive these things do not hurt an application). The Horace Mann Fellowship is our payment to take the risk (and it is a big one) of coming to Antioch and helping restore this college. It’s not easy work. There will be problems, problems that I encourage everyone to speak up about and go about solving in an efficient way. However, we have been paid up-front for this and I see very little return for the college from the current students. What have you done for your college?     

Sincerely,

Coty Wyatt ’16

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