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Hate Speech Has No Place at MIT

Several recent events on campus have served to highlight the fact that the intellectual level of discourse at MIT on the important issues of diversity and tolerance remains at a painfully low level.

The vandalism of several posters set up by Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenders, and Friends at MIT in celebration of National Coming out Week and the more recent misuse of Lobby 7 pillar comment sheets about women faculty at MIT and affirmative action paint an unacceptable picture of the level of both tolerance and discourse at MIT. The homophobic and sexist remarks written on the posters serve merely to inflame sensitive issues. Rather than adding to the discussion, they destroy it.

While a pillar comment sheet may not be the best vehicle for garnering serious, rational opinion - particularly on sensitive issues - there is clearly no excuse for the crude and immature comments that some people have chosen to write on them. Such behavior has no place at the Institute, and the lack of dialogue that accompanies it exhibits a disturbingly low level of discourse on campus about issues of diversity and tolerance.

The administration has made a praiseworthy effort to address some issues of diversity. Committees exploring race relations and programs on ethnic studies are laudable, if not terribly visible. Without their contributions, the problem of intolerance and ignorance of issues of diversity on campus might be worse.

But administrative efforts are clearly no substitute for meaningful and intelligent dialogue among individuals. The burden of raising the level of discussion on campus falls on the shoulders of individual students themselves, for whom issues of intolerance are most immediate. Students should talk about these issues as a matter of course. Conversation brings opinions on issues out into the open where they can be intelligently debated and where intolerant ideas can be destroyed.

Forums like the one held at Chocolate City last week are a step in the right direction. By facilitating open discourse among students, such discussion groups pave the way toward development of more intelligent campus dialogue.

We are fortunate that personal incidents of outright intolerance are relatively scarce on campus. But it is wrong to ignore the cumulative endemic effect of hurtful and intolerant comments, wherever they appear. The only way to improve the current level of intelligent discussion on issues of diversity and tolerance is through individual conscientiousness and personal responsibility.