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Saxa Politica: Freedom of speech not a trivial pursuit

April 28, 2011


The first edition of “What sucks: Tombs trivia’s most offensive team names” on Vox Populi, the Voice’s blog, provoked a large outcry of responses both denouncing and defending the names. Many commenters called for the Tombs to ban team names with jokes about sexual assault, sexual orientation, or natural disasters, among other potentially offensive topics.

Debate on the offensive names has since spilled outside of the blog to other online platforms.

Adeline Joshua (SFS ’13) turned to Facebook to organize students against the team names. She created an event denouncing the names, which has the support of approximately 150 people who marked “attending.”

“I think the Tombs should ban the offensive team names because they call the integrity of their establishment into question by allowing it to happen, and belittling the seriousness of issues like sexual abuse undermines the high standards we as Georgetown students should hold ourselves up to,” Joshua wrote in an email.

The United Feminists, Take Back the Night, and Hoyas Anonymous have launched another project called “I am Jane Hoya Campaign for Change.”  The sponsors made flyers directed at those Tombs trivia teams with offensive names. One flyer reads, “I am Jane Hoya. I think I’m gay. When your jokes target LGBTQ individuals, I think twice about coming out. Your words inhibit my identity.”

The team names at the Tombs have certainly been offensive and derogatory to a number of people. Imagine if you were a part of the “one in four”—the estimated fraction of Georgetown students who are sexually assaulted during their time at college—and you heard the trivia name “It’s not rape if you say, ‘Surprise!’” Names like this one show a lack of care and respect for other students who have faced horrific, damaging experiences.

However, the idea of taking away the ability of trivia teams to name themselves as they choose is even worse than these teams’ sense of humor. In the Facebook event calling to ban the offensive names, many of the comments posted by people who opposed the petition were deleted.

As Georgetown students, we should strive to respect and care for each other, and having team names at the Tombs that belittle the effects of sexual assault or make jokes about the tsunami in Japan certainly work against that goal. But we should not sacrifice our right to free speech and order to censor some team names that we find offensive.

Campaigns such as Joshua’s help to start a dialogue on campus about issues such as sexual assault, but inhibiting an open dialogue by blocking speech that some may find offensive only perpetuates the beliefs that are held. Deleting what is perceived as an offensive comment or not allowing people to use certain team names at trivia night will not make them more willing to see how people are hurt by their words.

Censoring offensive team names at the Tombs would also contradict the University’s speech and expression policy, which says, “A University is many things, but central to its being is discourse, discussion, debate: the untrammeled expression of ideas and information.”

The concept of freedom of speech should always be upheld on our campus—even if we are offended by what someone says. Offensive speech creates a learning opportunity and a time for dialogue. Without allowing it to happen, many issues would simply be ignored and overlooked.

Hopefully, those who use offensive team names will come to realize that their insensitive names hurt other people, but it’s not our job or right to make them change their ways.

“Surprise” Geoffrey at gbible@georgetownvoice.com



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