Yes, Smith College, Freedom of Speech is an Issue Here

Alex Seymour '17

Staff Writer

On March 1, I first noticed a student being attacked on Smith Confessional for having unpopular opinions. However, it wasn’t her opinions that were under attack -- it was her. The most disturbing thing I saw was a thread that threatened to run her over with a tractor. I took it upon myself to reach out to her, and our friendship began there.

The semester rolled on and the bullying continued, which inspired me to do a social experiment. I spent this past week wearing a hat that said, “God, Guns & Guts Made America Free.” Incidentally, this hat does not reflect my views on the subject of guns, but I believe quite strongly that if anyone truly does hold that belief, they should be able to express it without being shamed or harassed. I wanted to see if people would treat me any differently, and what I found would have shocked me, had I not already witnessed my friend’s situation.

When I walked around campus, I got a handful of dirty looks, some laughter and a fair amount of confusion—this on its own is not too out of the ordinary for me. But the hat did become a hot topic on Smith Confessional.

The first thread the hat appeared in speculated as to whether or not it was supposed to be ironic. This thread did not name me—it referred to me as a friend of my previously bullied friend. The next couple of threads did name me and also named my friend. One asked her why she was friends with me, considering some of our political disagreements. Another thread referred to her “sexist ideals” and my “racist hat.” The posts didn’t stop there. They speculated as to whether or not she is white and whether or not I am on the autism spectrum, both personal things that are nobody’s business but our own.

There was another thread where people voiced opinions as to whether or not we belonged at Smith. No one has the right to make that decision other than ourselves or the administration; students on an anonymous forum certainly do not have that right.

We experienced cyber-harassment, and why did it start? Because we expressed opinions that were considered unpopular at Smith. We were both named on an anonymous website where everyone reading knew who we were, but where we did not know who they were.

I guarantee that we agree with Smith students on most issues. Does it really make sense to alienate us? We are not the enemy of the Smith student body, and we have no desire to be. But when we are treated this way, it makes it more difficult for us to take your positions seriously.

So, I ask you, members of the Smith community, if you take issue with something one of your fellow students says, or an idea that they hold, do not make it about them as a person. Tell them where you find fault and why, in a respectful, compassionate way. And if someone finds fault with your ideas or things you have said, hear them out, and explain your position in a compassionate and respectful way. It is rare to meet another individual with whom you agree on everything. My fellow student and I are friends despite and because of our differences; we teach and learn from each other on a regular basis. If you give us a chance, we will do the same for you.