Montana State University Statement on
Zero Tolerance Policies and Codes Prohibiting Hate Speech

Over the past several years, Montana State University has been the scene of several incidents that have been viewed either as hate crimes based on race or sexual preference or as comments and remarks that were culturally and racially insensitive. In all cases, the University believes it has handled the incidents in ways that were appropriate and culturally respectful.

Students have the right to learn and live, faculty have the right to teach and conduct research, and staff have the right to work in an environment that is safe and free from violence, harassment, and discrimination.

The State of Montana has laws prohibiting hate crimes. The Montana University System and Montana State University have policies against harassment and discrimination which affect all staff, faculty, and students. MSU has student code of conduct policies that prohibit stalking, harassment and hazing.

Unfortunately, while these laws policies delineate acceptable and unacceptable conduct, they cannot prevent violent, hostile, and hate-based acts.

Entire communities are affected when hate-based speech or violence targets specific victims. When perpetrators are identified, campus, civil, and criminal procedures are available to deal with such acts. Even when perpetrators are identified, and especially when they are not, it is important for the institution to help heal the emotional wounds caused by the violence and promote education and awareness. As appropriate, the University must work to reassert the fundamental values of the academy.

Zero tolerance policies are always well intentioned. Court rulings have prohibited public colleges and universities from enacting codes that restrict the constitutional right to free speech making such policies illegal. But they are also counterproductive because they can backfire, allowing perpetrators of hate speech to cast themselves as victims. Further, relying on zero tolerance policies shifts the institution's focus from collective action and healing to retaliation and retribution.

The University believes that the response to hate speech should always be peaceful speech. The answer to individual violence should always be collective healing, and the answer to ignorance should always be education.

The pain of one is the pain of all.
The honor of one is the honor of all.

-- Traditional Native American Teaching