Published March 7, 2023
Dear university community:
I write to you regarding the upcoming speaking event hosted by the UB student chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF).
First, let me state unequivocally what I hope is patently clear to all members of our university community: Hateful and dehumanizing rhetoric is an affront to everything our community embraces. To all those who are disenfranchised, marginalized and persecuted, including our transgender community, please know that we support you, and we will continue to uphold UB’s cherished values of diversity, equity and inclusion to ensure that the university remains a safe and welcoming place for you.
Our university community thrives because of our diversity. We see the humanity and dignity in every member of our scholarly community. We are grateful for the many meaningful contributions of our feminist activists and scholars, and our LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff. We are immeasurably enriched by your work, your perspectives and your voices.
At the same time, as a public university, we must support the constitutionally protected democratic principles of the First Amendment. The First Amendment to the Constitution protects speech no matter how noxious the content. The law is clear on this point. So long as a student group abides by university guidelines and state laws concerning public events on campus, we cannot disallow the student group from inviting the speaker of its choosing to campus. As a university community, and as members of a democratic society, we have the responsibility to uphold free speech.
Of course, it is neither easy nor comfortable doing so when the speech in question offends and dehumanizes many members of our university community. Consequently, even as we recognize the powerful role that free speech plays in maintaining our democracy, it leaves us to grapple with language that the First Amendment’s robust protections permit.
When faced with the prospect of intolerant and hateful speech directed at transgender people entering the campus dialogue, I understand that espousing our university’s values and clarifying the First Amendment may ring hollow—and, indeed, feel wholly inadequate. But let me reassure you: These values of diversity, equity, inclusion and respect keep us grounded. They guide our every action. As the bedrock of our university, they most certainly do not crumble when confronted with dehumanizing, transphobic rhetoric. Since our university’s founding, our power of reason and our ability to engage in civil, humanizing discourse have always been the source of our scholarly community’s greatest strength.
Especially this week, it bears repeating: Our university thrives because of our diversity. We are not defined by a single event, but by the culture of respect and tolerance that we have deliberately cultivated in our words, deeds and practices for decades. Long after this visitor has left campus, our ongoing concerted efforts toward social justice will continue.
This is how we embrace the dignity of all members of our university community.
Satish K. Tripathi