Free Speech Not Equivalent to Violence

Roger Copeland, Professor of Theater and Dance

To the Editors:

I was appalled by last week’s letter to the editor, titled “In Response to Sommers’ Talk: A Love Letter to Ourselves” (The Oberlin Review, April 17, 2015). Published three days in advance of Christina Hoff Sommers’ public lecture at Oberlin, it read in part: “By bringing her to a college campus laden with trauma and sexualized violence and full of victims/survivors, the Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians is choosing to reinforce this climate of denial/blame/ shame that ultimately has real life consequences on the well-being of people who have experienced sexualized violence.”

Presumably, the signatories to this letter would have preferred that OCRL rescind their invitation to Ms. Sommers. That — I’m pleased to report — did not happen. The sponsors of this event did not surrender to intimidation. But when it comes to words that might offend a victim of rape, nothing Ms. Sommers said Monday evening can compare with the following sentence in last Friday’s letter: “Her talk is happening, so let’s pull together in the face of this violence and make our own space to support each other.” What I find highly objectionable about this statement is its irresponsible use of the word “violence.” Anyone who conflates the distinction between constitutionally protected speech and rape or other forms of sexual violence is doing a tremendous disservice to those who have experienced the unspeakable horror of sexual assault.


– Roger Copeland

Professor of Theater and Dance