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Poster Wars: When Is Speech Offensive?

Monday, Mar. 28, 2011
Photo used under creative commons from Dana Rocks

Mary lives in a college dorm and displays a poster on her door with the text of California Proposition 8: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” She supported the successful “Yes on 8” campaign.  A constitutional challenge to the proposition is now working its way through the courts, and Mary is involved in the effort to prevent the proposition from being declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

James, her dorm neighbor, finds this poster offensive and demands Mary take it down. He worked to defeat the measure, which he feels is homophobic and discriminatory. To Mary, the poster is an expression of her beliefs and identity, and she does not think she should have to remove it.

What should happen now?

Best student response wins $50.  Rules

Here are some resources from different perspectives that might help you decide:

Making an Ethical Decision 

Hate Speech on Campus: Pros and Cons 

Student Speech: ACLU 

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) 

Responding to Bigotry and Intergroup Strife on Campus: Anti-Defamation League

Photo by Dana Rocks available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License


Comments Comments

Sthanley J. said on Apr 3, 2011
I think that Mary should realize that she is hurting someone emotionally and she needs to take the poster down. I can see why James is angry about the poster, it may have offended him personally or he is just standing up for other people who felt that way but did not say anything. Mary has the right to do that but at the same time shes hurting someone, and she should realize that what she is doing is unethical. Thats what I think what do you guys think? - Like - 5 people like this.
Robyn L. said on Apr 4, 2011
Although Mary has the right to expess her beliefs, she should consider how her openness affects others. James has already told her he is offended by it. If one person is offended, usually there are others who feel the same way. It's askin to when only one person in class asks the professor a question and that same question is on a dozen student's minds but they're afraid to say anything. If Mary is adamant about not removing the poster because she wants to express her identity, that is her decision and she must live with the consequences. Maybe those against Prop 8 will treat her like dirt, play cruel pranks on her, etc. To be safe, rather than sorry, Mary should take down the poster to prevent any harassment. As well, Mary should really think about what that poster says about her. She says she's putting it up to express her identity. The only impression people passing by her door will obcure about her is that she is a homophobe or does not feel gays and lesbians should have the same rights as heterosexual couples. Is that what she really wants people to think about her? If it is, ok, leave up the poster. Can't we all co-exist though? Why not put another poster on her door like her favorite movie or band? Worse thing with that is she would have arguments with haters of said movie or band. On the upside, she would gain new friends who have the same interest. She would not be offending anybody like she was with the poster in support of Prop 8. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Marnie Gelhard said on Apr 4, 2011
Self expression especially in such a graphic way such as print production or image posting is incredibly influential. Each day our brains are flooded with thousand upon MILLIONS of graphic images and pictures throughout each life moment. The ability for our brains to absorb these ginormous quantities of data is unfathomable! James has clearly been greatly impacted by the actions of another student. Just one image in the form of the poster has caused him a great deal of emotional distress. To leap off what @Robyn L. said, if one person is offended by the actions of another there are bound to be others who feel the same way. Having one student speak up can often make all the difference. I agree again with Robyn that "If Mary is adamant about not removing the poster because she wants to express her identity, that is her decision and she must live with the consequences." In order to preserve the SCU motto of Service, Support and Spirituality, SUPPORT is key. I believe with enough support, those vocal enough to express their concern with the poster and also those who don't speak up yet are offended, will feel regardlessly respected & included. SCU support must be available to the students whether in the form of free councelling to floor mates who were offended or floor meetings to talk it out, i think support must be available, easily accessible and respectful. I believe the students who in any way, shape or form feel excluded due to the actions of one, will greatly learn from this day. Those disgruntled by the poster will learn, the feelings provoked will lead them to act. Those who realize the poster is merely a reflection of the closed minded views that continue to unfortunately exist in this evolving generation, will grow immensely. What we think about is what we talk about and what we talk about is what we think about. Thoughts, actions and words interchangeably are cyclical. All the Best, Marnie - Like - 2 people like this.
Pearl Wong said on Apr 14, 2011
Assuming the poster was hung on her door facing the hallway and not within her own room, the poster was displayed in a public space. Since hallways are public spaces used by students from all types of backgrounds, and not free speech forums, no political propaganda should be displayed. Allowing the poster to be hung in a public space will only perpetuate a message that the school may, or may not, support. In any case, universities should be places of academia and supportive learning - not places for political advertisements or brainwashing. If there must be a poster of "Yes on Prop 8" then there should also be a poster of "No on Prop 8" in order to deliver a balanced view to passersby, or there should be no posters at all. - Like
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Tags: dorm, ethics, free speech, proposition 8, residence hall