Two students at Mount Royal University in Calgary have re-ignited the debate of free speech versus hate speech.
Zoe Slusar became upset and felt her right to a ‘safe space’ was being violated by a fellow student, later identified as Matt Linder, who chose to wear a hat with the slogan, “Make America Great Again.” The red hat, made famous by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, according to Slusar, represents bigotry, intolerance and racism.
While in the initial confrontation, Slusar was adamant Linder remove the hat, she later changed her statement and apologized, saying to CBC: “He is allowed to wear the hat. As a student, I disagree with what the hat represents. I have diverse friends (culturally and sexually) who would drop a class if the person wearing the hat was sitting in the room with them, because they would feel unsafe. Given the deeper issues of intolerance and oppression represented by the hat, I disagree with it.”
Despite recognizing Linder’s right to free speech and expression, Slusar has become victim to online, phone and verbal threats from fellow students and Trump supporters from south of the border, which have only increased in volume and severity since a video of the confrontation was released online.
The university made a statement in regards to the incident: "Mount Royal University respects individuals who exercise their constitutionally-protected right to freedom of expression."
MRU political science professor Duane Bratt weighed in on social media, calling the incident "embarrassing."
Overall, this incident is an example of over-sensitivity meeting over-reaction. I must agree with professor Bratt. It was an embarrassing incident, the aftermath of which is equally embarrassing and frightening. And yet, it seems to mirror the political climate of America perfectly. Politics south of the border have become so polarized, they have become a meeting of over-sensitivity and over-reaction – a clashing of two extremes.
Unfortunately, I feel the value of ‘safe spaces’ has become lessened by over-sensitivity, making Slusar’s initial argument unreasonable. That being said, the hate she has received since is disgusting – mimicking the hate Donald Trump evokes in his followers, to whole communities of people.
Do you have the right to wear a hat? Yes. (Although I too agree Trump, and his merchandise by extension, is representative of hate). Do you have the right to send death threats to a student, her friends and family? No.
We cannot expect to be made comfortable every second of every day. We should expect to feel safe from violent threats.
Jennifer Hamilton is a local student and writer.