ISG vice president resigns over free speech disagreement

By Jessie Wang and Lika Lezhava

Vindhya Kalipi, junior in LAS, resigned from her position as vice president of Illinois Student Government on Oct. 10. Her resignation follows disagreement over free speech and conversations sparked by Matt Walsh’s appearance on campus.

According to a statement released by ISG, ISG agrees that Matt Walsh’s statements are hateful and they support the LGBTQ+ community. However, ISG found itselves “in disagreement on whether such hateful speech should be allowed on campus and in society more broadly.”

Before Walsh’s arrival, Kalipi believed ISG should release a statement saying that the University should have taken steps to prohibit Walsh from coming to campus and call out the University directly. Garrett Forrest, junior in LAS and ISG president, disagreed. 

“We ended up putting out a statement that I think rightfully got a lot of backlash because it was not really firm in either way,” Kalipi said. 

She points out that the University cannot legally do anything to regulate free speech, but she personally believes that “hate speech should be banned by the First Amendment.”

According to the United Nations, hate speech is mostly defined as an offensive expression of speech which could threaten social peace, whereas free speech is defined as individuals expressing themselves without interfering with government regulations, according to a definition from Cornell Law.  

Kalipi also said that she hoped ISG would form an advocacy coalition to petition for change on a governmental level, a philosophy that Forrest disagreed with. 

On the other side, Forrest believes that a universal policy against hate speech sets a dangerous precedent. 

“Hate speech … can be very taxing on people,” Forrest said. “It’s something that we do that we unfortunately, in my view, have to accept though, as the price of free speech.” 

Forest believes that the First Amendment protects hate speech and that, no matter the speech, individuals cannot be silenced.

“It means that there’s a level of security — no matter who is in power, no matter who’s making the decisions — your speech isn’t going to be silenced,” Forrest said. 

Steven Helle, Professor Emeritus in Media at the University, said that every campus code that attempted to regulate hate speech in the past has been found unconstitutional in court. 

However, he said that the law only considers the speaker’s interest and not the receivers of such speech. 

Helle also said that imposing regulations on hate speech also means tradeoffs between protecting speakers and receivers. 

“If we want to regulate hate speech, it raises a question of what exactly ‘protection’ means,” Helle said. “Do we protect speakers or receivers?  It can’t be both.”

Kalipi said she believes the latter — protection means preventing the identity of certain groups from being diminished, she said.

I don’t think it’s necessarily disagreeing with what is being said, so much as it is protecting people,” Kalipi said. 

Because of her ideological differences, Kalipi decided to resign. She said that ISG missed an opportunity to take a stance against hate speech. 

She also disagreed with how the University handled Walsh’s appearance because “there was no mass email sent out affirming the LGBTQ community” or support being shown by the administration. 

Kalipi said she knew many people who said they felt negatively affected by Walsh’s appearance which played a big part in taking a stand in front of ISG. She said that she has mostly received positive feedback and hopes that people take actions that align with their beliefs. 

“I am very thankful to the entire University community for supporting me and my resignation,” Kalipi said. “I urge everybody to stick to their beliefs and stand up for what they think is right.”

 

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