To the editors:
Maya Lowenstein ’18 is understandably offended by the use of the word “retarded” to express contempt for someone or something (“We need to stop standing for the ‘r-word,’” Nov. 12). She finds it offensive not just to those it is applied to, but also to those to whom they are being compared, people with mental handicaps. However, she also promises to report any other uses of the term to a Discrimination Advisor. It is therefore probably worth reminding the community that the Kenyon regulations on verbal harassment hold that insensitive speech should be corrected by blame; that the only speech that can be a matter for punishment is speech directed at an individual that degrades and defames a person because of belonging to a group, in other words things like racial slurs or what in another context is often called “fighting words.”
The policy was written that way for a reason. The idea was that the community should establish its standards of decent behavior by praise and blame far more than by quasi-judicial proceedings. It would be better for Ms. Lowenstein to speak up when she hears terms she finds offensive and explain to the speaker just why they are offensive than to report the speaker to authority. Of course I understand her hesitancy in speaking up. But I would urge her to try doing it anyway. That approach can, if done in a civil way, promote understanding; the other creates a chilling effect and drives nastiness underground, where it gets nastier.
Professor of Political Science