Section: Opinion

Demonstrators raise questions about respectful speech

Demonstrators raise questions about respectful speech

Photo by Evie Kennedy

Kenyon takes pride in a certain acceptance of people and their individual views and beliefs. An unofficial catchphrase, “you do you,” tends to underline many students’ views of others. However, a scene on Middle Path on Wednesday, Oct. 22 caused a disruption to this status quo. 

“Did you see the protesters?” This unexpected question greeted me Wednesday morning. My initial reaction was something along the lines of, “Woah! A protest. This is so collegiate.” This excitement slightly dwindled when I learned that the “protest” consisted of two fundamentalist Christians, two signs and a megaphone. Nonetheless, I, along with a few others, ventured down Middle Path, eager to catch a glimpse of this built-up ruckus in the center of campus. Sure enough, two men were standing in the center of Middle Path holding signs reading, “You Need Jesus,” and outlining “God’s Role For Women.” The men staging the protest voiced their beliefs loudly over campus. The message, however, was not the problem. While these men were entitled to free speech and free expression, the ways they went about trying to convey their beliefs were more concerning. The protesters’ message was directed at students, but the main response I heard from several of my peers was, “I want them off our campus.” I began thinking that it wasn’t the protestors’ beliefs that were unwelcome — it was the protestors’ manner of conveying their beliefs.

These protestors have a right to share their views and opinions, just like everyone else in this country. Radical people do exist, and they are as entitled as anyone to share their beliefs, no matter how strongly people disagree with them. One thinks of the quotation often attributed to any number of philosophers including Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But our First Amendment rights are called “rights” for a reason. The U.S. offers its citizens the incredible opportunity to able to speak and express their varying beliefs. Freedom of speech is fundamental to our country’s existence.

However, an obvious line runs between free speech and hate speech. Condemning other people to hell for their own beliefs is unacceptable. There are right and wrong ways to go about doing something. Coming onto a college campus and explicitly targeting members of the student body qualifies as a “wrong” way. I think most people can agree that such behavior brings an atmosphere of hate to Kenyon.

The Kenyon students who put LGBT pride flags along Middle Path as a counter to the protesters demonstrated a “right” way to express opinions. The expression was peaceful and addressed viewers respectfully. An act like that demonstrates that it’s easy to express one’s views in an innocuous way. Freedom of speech entitles anyone to express his or her beliefs. Just because I disagree with someone’s view doesn’t mean I don’t think they have that right. However, the way of presenting any view — whether it is one I agree with or not — should not seek to make anyone feel attacked or uncomfortable.

As a liberal college campus, Kenyon should welcome the ideas and beliefs of others and urge people to share them respectfully. Our student body fosters a colorful spectrum of opinions, and people should encourage each other to express them with civility. So the next time you walk along Middle Path, don’t just appreciate the colors of the turning leaves — appreciate the colors of students’ views in order to experience the full effect of Kenyon.

Hannah Leidy ’18, is undeclared from Elizabeth City, N.C. She can be reached at


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