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Campus harassment legal but hurtful

During the last three weeks of the fall semester three "free speech" incidents were brought to my attention. Someone late at night used an Athena printer to reproduce digitally a large cropped photo of female breasts and left it in a prominent place next to the printer.

One of our faculty, Professor of Literature David M. Halperin, received telephoned death threats because of his visibility in the political movement for gay rights on campus. Then someone mailed to a Project Athena Indian American mailing list several pages of jokes belittling and degrading to women.

In our present legalized and litigious climate, such acts, with the obvious exception of the telephoned death threats, will in all probability be upheld as legitimate exercise of the right of free speech.

But these incidents have hurt people. The women who either saw the picture or read the jokes came to see me not to pursue "rights." They came to tell me they felt hurt, ashamed or threatened by these incidents.

It is difficult for people who do these things to realize the effect they have on others, and they often react with ridicule or even outrage when they are asked about why they did it, saying something like, "Can't you take a joke?"

There is no better reply than the Golden Rule: How would you feel if these things had been directed not at women but at your own group? We can expect over the next few years to be steadily engaged in an extended discussion about conflicts of rights.

Whatever the outcome of those discussions, I hope that we will all agree that to live in a community successfully requires understanding of the other person's point of view, respect for the other person, even when points of view differ sharply, and, finally, a large measure of forbearance.

As a contribution to the discussion, I would like to say that I do not believe people have a moral right to hurt others and that legitimacy for such acts as I have described above is often achieved through community silence. I am writing because, as a member of this community, I do not wish to remain silent in the face of such acts.

Samuel Jay Keyser->

Associate Provost for ->

Educational Policy and Programs->