Via Wiki­media Commons

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.