Commentary: Here’s what diversity is about, Justice Thomas | Albany Times Union

Dear Justice Thomas,

I am a professor at Syracuse University. I teach argumentation, advocacy, and First Amendment theory. During oral arguments in the affirmative action cases brought by Students for Fair Admissions against the University of North Carolina and Harvard University you are quoted saying, “I’ve heard the word ‘diversity’ quite a few times, but I don’t have a clue what it means.”

I know the briefs filed in support of the affirmative action policies of UNC and Harvard, and the written opinions of the judges in the appellate courts are filled with explanations as to the benefits of a diverse student body. By your own account you, however, remain confused.

Let me give it one more try.

Diversity is the profound and painful conversations that occur in my classroom when we discuss the current constitutional status of hate speech. You, of course, know that hate speech is generally protected unless it can be further categorized as incitement, fighting words or true threats. Outside of those somewhat limiting categories, American citizens and their guests can spew hate without consequence. Certainly, those of us with lighter skin can be targeted, but more often the targets of hate speech are individuals whose genetics have blessed them with rich brown and black tones.

I generally begin our classroom discussion asking my students to define hate speech. The white students are often stumped. The Black students are not. They know hate speech, they feel it, and they have no trouble defining it. Their definitions are operational…Read More


Lynn Greenky. is a Professor Emeritus at Syracuse University, where she taught a beloved undergraduate course about the First Amendment for 10 years. She continues to write and speak about the First Amendment and is the author of When Freedom Speaks.

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