Over the past two weeks, someone has written offensive language and drawn pictures on the inside of one of the stalls of the men’s restroom on the upper floor of the Grewcock Student Union. The first message was a crude jab at President Donald Trump. Maintenance painted over the graffiti and it seemed as if the problem had faded away. However, this past weekend, Parents’ Weekend, more lewd messages emerged. The same dig on Trump reappeared, but this time accompanied by a giant Nazi swastika.
At first glance, this probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. People write things on bathroom stalls all over the place, so there isn’t anything unusual about it. However, this doesn’t mean it’s right to vandalize Hillsdale’s property. One might try to defend these Sharpied statements as harmless expressions of free speech. I can even imagine being told to stop finding the scribblings in the bathroom offensive. But the material is offensive, not because people have to act perfectly, but because of how this hurts the college. These actions could cause the college to appear hypocritical as they promote respect for authority, while individuals on the campus openly disrespect others.
Citizens have freedom of speech; I’m sure there would be little or no argument about that on this campus. But does this freedom mean we should say whatever pops into our head and expect no consequences? When someone does or says something with the intention to offend, they should expect consequences of disapproval from the administration and criticism from students. This doesn’t mean we must live our lives fearing what others will say about us, but rather, that we need to use prudence in exercising our free speech.
Political correctness is one of the last things you would expect to find on Hillsdale’s campus, and that isn’t what I’m advocating at all. Political correctness restricts freedom of speech in order to avoid disagreeing opinions. There are respectful means of discussing differing opinions, but abusing free speech by intentionally offending people is not the way of going about getting your voice heard. Again, prudence is vital when voicing your opinions. A major goal of Hillsdale is to train students in self-government. Part of this idea of self-government is learning to use discernment in everyday situations.
This prudence, or discernment, in regards to free speech, is a virtue for which we should all strive, and one that the Honor Code promotes.
“A Hillsdale College student is honorable in conduct, honest in word and deed, dutiful in study and service, and respectful of the rights of others,” the Honor Code states. “Through education the student rises to self-government.” It is not honorable to draw lewd messages and intentionally offensive symbols in public restrooms. It also isn’t respectful of others. When expressing your opinion in a way that aims to shock and offend, you aren’t showing the respect that other people deserve. The intention is to attempt at making them upset. Cursing Trump and drawing Nazi symbols are abuses of our freedom of speech, as they are meant to make people using the bathroom angry.
Hillsdale’s vision of self-governing students includes prudence in what we say and do. In this situation, knowing when and when not to use our free speech is an act of self-government. I’m certainly not Trump’s biggest fan, but that doesn’t mean I should go around writing obscene things about him in public places. Again, we need to use discernment and respect others.
It is our duty as citizens of the nations to help each other be discerning on a daily basis. Society runs most smoothly when we cooperate with one another and avoid causing people to be offended wherever possible. We sometimes forget that the ability to speak our minds can have extremes. Certainly no one should be silenced, but we also need to show wisdom in when and how we speak our opinions.
These obscene and offensive acts of vandalism are bad for the college’s reputation. I don’t want Hillsdale College to be viewed in light of these actions and any others like them, and I would hazard a guess that most other students feel the same and are committed to promoting the good reputation that Hillsdale deserves.
Further, the second part of this vandalism occurred during Parents Weekend. This is a worse time for this than usual because parents and their children are visiting. I’m not saying we need to put on a facade, but writing offensive messages and symbols while families are present is especially disrespectful to the students, the college, and its guests. When we abuse our freedom of speech, in any manner, we represent this college poorly.