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The goals of this essay are two-fold. First, by describing the experience I had in Law and Feminism, the essay will show how hateful and harassing speech in a seminar devoted to issues of gender, race and sexuality can rob students of important educational experiences. The story of my class is meant to remind legal educators and administrators of the concrete harm, both personal and educational, of hate speech. Too often the hate speech debate focuses on the theoretical and the abstract; participants forget that the principles at stake have demonstrable consequences for real people.

Second, while this essay does not endorse university institution of hate speech codes, it does take issue with the absolutist position on free speech. The absolutist view is the source of the administrative policy of non-interference with student speech. In my classroom, this view allowed hate speech that was extremely disruptive to continue. In some ways, the egregious nature of my experience is what makes it instructive; if the speech I describe here cannot be regulated under the absolutist approach, then that approach needs to be rethought. It is the goal of the essay to offer my unfortunate experience as a way to demonstrate the need for a more balanced approach to hate speech and harassment in the law school context.

Publication Citation

11 Mich. J. Gender & L. 173 (2005).