By Beth Wasson
WICHITA - The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to free speech whether you agree with the speaker or not. But many times, groups with differing views resort to violence to make their point. At Wichita State University (WSU) a new organization, Cut H8, hopes to avoid fighting in favor of education, discussion and understanding.
Creating a campus that welcomes individual beliefs and values the free expression of ideas is the goal of Cut H8. Graduate student Rheanna Pierce and senior Josh Villa spearhead the program that kicked off at the beginning of the current school year. Several hundred students signed a large banner pledging to cut hate around campus and open dialogues instead. Faculty and students alike welcome and support the program.
Through the org-anization, students report any incidents of discrimination they experience or witness to Cut H8. From there, student ambassadors assist and support students with various resources. In some cases, the incident goes directly to the Vice President for Student Affairs.
Other times, the student speaks with a counselor or Cut H8 holds a forum open to any students to discuss the incident. These Coffee and Conversation groups teach students to take away the accusing finger by saying “I feel” instead of “you make me feel,” to keep the dialogue constructive and to not become defensive.
Student ambassadors also promote a positive campus environment by clipping positive messages on students with paperclips. The idea is for students to pass the clips forward by clipping other students thus, spreading a positive message to as many people as possible.
Although Wichita and the WSU campus avoided recent violent protests across the country, the Southern Poverty Law Center named three organizations in this area as hate groups. In addition, the center defines a hate crime as a violent crime motivated by hate based on race, color, national origin or other factors. According to figures from the FBI, hate crimes in this country jumped seven percent between 2015 and 2016, the latest statistics available. The FBI adds that most hate crimes occur in cities of over 250,000, such as Wichita, and show marked increases in crimes against Muslims, Jews, African-Americans, and members of the LGBTQ community.
As more and more cities and universities become the site of protests, WSU hopes their Cut H8 program will divert any violent activities. According to Pierce, “WSU has had no problems so far. It’s been smooth sailing.”
In addition, designated First Amendment areas on the WSU campus allow students and non-students to reserve a time to express their point of view. The campus requests 72 hours advance notice from speakers so campus police may take appropriate safety precautions. Recently, a non-student spoke on abortion and a respectful audience gathered to listen.
Cut H8 emphasizes that the Constitution protects all points of view and the way to change starts with dialogue. By giving a forum where differing parties come together in a civil atmosphere to promote understanding shows students an example of the First Amendment in action.
The ultimate goal of the organization is to reduce the number of discrimination incidents while promoting alternative means of expression. “It’s important that we take care of all our students,” says Pierce, “and show that we care by creating a system where they feel safe.” l