Dean’s Statement: Oppose Hateful Speech and Actions

Sept 25, 2007

Last week some of our students noticed a stylized swastika and some lettering, which were probably intended to communicate an anti-Semitic message and were easily understood to have that meaning, affixed to an ashtray outside one of our law school buildings. When the symbols and lettering were brought to the attention of our Office of Student Affairs and Dean Inman, steps were taken immediately to remove them. Steps were also taken to confirm that the symbols had not been placed in other locations. UPD was notified, and an investigation into the placement of these symbols and lettering continues, but it is unlikely that the identity of the person who placed the symbols and lettering on the ashtray will ever be determined. There is no evidence that links the placement of the symbols on the ashtray to a member of the law school community.

As members of a campus community and present or future members of the legal profession, we must speak out and condemn hateful utterances, statements, and expressions that demean or degrade any person or group. We also have a special obligation as present or future members of the legal profession to assist our society in dealing with injustice and unfair treatment of individuals, and in helping create an environment that is safe and free from violence, harassment, and discrimination. Anti-Semitism is as ugly and unallowable as racism, and it is our ethical and professional responsibility to oppose it.

What should a member of our law school community do when hateful graffiti is found on our campus? As the students in this instance did (and for which they are to be commended), immediately bring its existence to the attention of the Office of Student Affairs so that it can be dealt with appropriately.

As a general matter, all of us should do our utmost to educate ourselves about sensitivities in our community, to the end that each of us might become more alert about how a symbol or an utterance is likely to be understood by and be hurtful to others with backgrounds different from our own. We should also take this occasion to reaffirm our commitment to building a community where free expression and debate can flourish, where the open exchange of ideas is encouraged, and where full participation by all of our community’s members in learning, discussion, and intellectual argument is the norm. To these ends, we do not practice and we do not tolerate harassing or threatening behavior, intimidation, abuse of authority, the use of degrading language toward any person or any group, impeding any community member’s right to communicate one’s ideas simply because we disagree with the content, or lack of civility toward those with opposing views. At the law school, we need to be the leaders who set the example in community building for the greater university, so that our university will set the best example possible for our society.

- Robert H. Jerry, II
Dean, Levin College of Law

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