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Dealing with Hate in the Feminist Classroom

39 Pages Posted: 27 Jul 2006  

Kathryn Stanchi

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law


This article addresses the conflict between free speech and educational rights through the lens of the author's experience dealing with intentionally disruptive hate speech in a seminar entitled Law and Feminism. The paper begins by describing the hate speech that occurred in Law and Feminism and its impact upon the students in the class. The description is meant to show concretely and specifically the harms of student hate speech in the classroom, especially in a seminar class devoted to feminist theory.

The paper then critiques the refusal of many legal educators to interfere with student hate speech in the classroom. Although interference with student speech is a well-settled part of legal education, and it is a widely accepted principle that free speech can be regulated in an academic environment when it interferes with the educational purpose of the class or equality principles, the legal academy generally responds to hate speech by ignoring it. With hate speech, biases in the legal academy tilt the balance unfairly toward a policy of non-interference - the academic equivalent of sticking one's head in the sand.

This paper takes issue with that approach. The paper argues that, despite its claims to neutrality, the non-interference approach to student hate speech is neither neutral nor absolute. Instead, the political context of law school inflates the free speech harm of professorial regulation of student hate speech while simultaneously deflating the importance of more widely accepted law school practices that control the content of student classroom dialogue. The non-interference approach also misunderstands and de-values the educational goals of seminars devoted to critical legal thought. The paper challenges law schools to renounce the superficially neutral "non-interference" approach and devise a more thoughtful, nuanced approach to the balance of free speech and education rights in the legal academy.

Keywords: hate speech, feminism, legal education, feminist legal theory, free speech, women and legal education

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Stanchi, Kathryn, Dealing with Hate in the Feminist Classroom. Michigan Journal of Gender & Law, Vol. 11, p. 173, 2005. Available at SSRN:

Kathryn Stanchi (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-8807 (Phone)

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