Hackley Clarifies Casual Use of Offensive Language on Campus

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Hackley Clarifies Casual Use of Offensive Language on Campus

Illustration by Dylan Wade

Illustration by Dylan Wade

Illustration by Dylan Wade

Illustration by Dylan Wade

By Jared Tilliss, Staff Writer

In the United States, the balance between free speech and peaceful coexistence is tenuous right now. Even so, Hackley strives to be a place where everyone is encouraged to share their ideas and opinions. At the same time, as the 2017-2018 academic year kicks off, Hackley administrators are reminding students that its code of ethics and virtues extends to language on campus as well.

Hackley administrators have conducted a careful review of the Student Handbook and clarified the guidelines surrounding the casual use of offensive language on school grounds. The change is intended to promote the school’s highest virtues: respect and kindness for all.

Head of School Michael Wirtz explained, “Each year, we review the handbooks to ensure that our policies make sense and continue to fit our educational philosophy.” Upon this year’s review, Hackley has developed a clearer, more focused rule regarding the use of offensive language.

Chris Arnold, Hackley’s Director of Student Life, explained that the clarification formally states that students may not use offensive language “deliberately to be offensive or even casually without [good] intent.” What constitutes offensive language can range from sexist, racist, and homophobic slurs to curses to any deliberate attack on a person. Mr. Arnold furthers that the addition simply makes “explicitly clear what had already been implicitly clear”, which is that offensive language is never tolerated on campus.

According to Mr. Wirtz, the clarification was made for one main purpose: to “articulate the school’s expectation that the casual use of offensive language is inappropriate, regardless of intent.” Mr. Arnold concurs, stating that “the school needs to be a place where every student should feel respected.”  

Mr. Wirtz believes that students will respect and follow the new change. “Hackley is filled with articulate, funny, savvy, intelligent students”, he said. “Based on that observation, I believe that students will respect such policies, holding themselves and their friends to higher standards.” Mr. Wirtz added, “Our hope is that this policy helps students realize the power of their words.”

In terms of punishment, Mr. Arnold explains that the Board of Magistrates will decide on any potential consequences on a “case-by-case basis.” The Board of Magistrates, a judicial council made up of elected high school students, will be re-introduced this school year. This committee can be called in to rule on any incident, regardless of its extremity. Mr. Arnold’s goal is to ensure that the severity, motive and context of an incident will play a major role in the disciplinary action taken against the student.

While general harassment is addressed in the first part of the school’s mission in the Handbook, Mr. Arnold and Mr. Wirtz believe that the clarification on offensive language will be beneficial in the effort to minimize inappropriate speech.

Mr. Arnold recognizes that words are very powerful and can hurt when used in an inappropriate fashion. That being said, he wants to make sure that free speech is something that is always valued by the Hackley community. This balance is difficult to create, but it is something that Hackley takes very seriously and will continue to explore in the upcoming years.

Students’ initial reactions seem to be tolerant yet skeptical of the new clarification. Freshman Luke Malcolm explains that, “it may not be the best idea to restrict offensive language in schools, because once everyone enters the real world, words will hurt even more”. In addition, freshman Alston Liu said, “sometimes offensive language expresses how I’m really feeling at the current moment”. This opinions seem to demonstrate the collective student perspective that words shouldn’t be restrained and are part of a school’s fabric.

There are still some grey areas surrounding the clarification that will need to be addressed. Students may wonder if, like the drug and alcohol policies, the offensive language rule extends from off-campus events to athletic competitions. For any specific questions, Mr. Arnold and Mr. Wirtz are available and are always happy to help.

Hackley hopes that the new change will act as a proper compromise between preserving free speech and limiting offensive language. Ultimately, Hackley will continue to promote its motto, “character is always higher than intellect”.

 

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