Intent different than impact

Philosophy club reacts to hate speech

Cameron Clark was walking into the Art Center from the back entrance facing the parking lots Feb. 6 when he found an unfamiliar term chalked onto the wall next to the doors.

The chalk read “Fight Cultural Marxism” and, since the term was unfamiliar to Clark, it sparked his interest and led him to ultimately call for its removal.

Cultural Marxism, another term for political correctness, was adopted in the 1990s by American conservatives and continues to resonate today with right-leaning and libertarian groups.

Clark, the president of the Philosophy Club, took the chalked phrase to Associate Professor of Philosophy Mary Lyn Stoll who told him more about the hateful nature of the term and its use within alt-right literature.

Originally used in the academic setting, the term represents a counter to political correctness and progressive politics.

Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project Heidi Beirich said it is used to demonize “feminists, homosexuals, secular humanists, multiculturalists, sex educators, environmentalists, immigrants, and black nationalists.”

“As far as epistemic authority, Dr. (Garret) Merriam was the person who told me he had definitely heard the term used in this manner,” said Clark.

After understand the full weight of what the chalking was conveying, Clark called Dean of Students Bryan Rush.

Though unfamiliar with the phrase, Rush said he came to recognize the hateful implications of the writing and had campus security promptly remove it.

Rush said the university’s concern is to fight hate speech while protecting free speech.

“When you think of hate speech, that’s not language that would normally come up, but folks’ reactions, visceral reactions to different phrases and terminology, it varies from person to person,” Dr. Rush said. “There is always a fine line that we try to walk as we navigate hate speech and free speech. Intent is very different from impact.”

Clark said it is the intent that concerns him the most. Being as nuanced as the phrase is, he said he sees the chalking as more of a recruitment tool for far right and alt-righters as opposed to direct hate speech.

“Because this terminology is so obscure and it’s just more recently been getting back into rotation in our language, it makes me heavily suspect that whoever wrote this is familiar with that rhetoric, is familiar with the alt-right movement,”  Clark said. “I feel like it is something that is directed more towards other members of that alt-right community to let them know that, ‘Hey, our presence is here at USI’. It’s very, very specific language.”

To counter the chalking, Philosophy Club members changed the name of their event “Racism in Prisons” to “Fighting Racism in Prisons” and began to promote the event through chalkings across campus.

“We kind of pulled from their language and made it a very obvious anti-racists chalking that also supported the event,” Clark said.

For more information about hate speech on campus, contact the USI Dean of Students’ office or contact Cameron Clark about the USI Philosophy Club’s meetings.