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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA administrators hold First Amendment forum in wake of ‘you deserve rape’ sign controversy

The UA Dean of Students Office held a question and answer forum Wednesday afternoon on First Amendment rights in response to controversy over a UA student’s fiery preaching on campus.

Dean Saxton, a classics and religious studies junior, ignited a controversy when he held a sign that read, “You deserve rape,” on Heritage Hill in front of the Administration building early last week. His sermon on why he believed women should dress more modestly led several students to directly confront him. More students filed complaints with UA administrators and signed an online petition that demanded the UA discipline Saxton.

Kendal Washington White, interim dean of students; law professor Toni Massaro and Kathy Adams Riester, an associate dean of students and director of parent and family programs, moderated the forum.

“We have the duty to uphold federal law, the constitution, and it is a balancing act, it really is. There are so many factors to consider,” Washington White said. “And I just want to make sure you are all aware of that, and I said this in the column that appeared in the Wildcat this week, we are upholding policy and laws is not equivalent to us endorsing any kind of vile, vulgar activity or speech that happens here on campus.”

The forum began with Massaro talking about the First Amendment and how it applies to college campuses.

A person’s First Amendment rights vary from place to place on campus, Massaro said. What you can say and do on the corner of a street, on campus, is not the same as what you can say or do in the dorms or in a classroom.

The university has to protect freedom of speech, but it also has the duty of protecting a student’s right to education. These duties can compete, Massaro said.

“We are obliged to see to it that our students have an equal chance of learning here,” Massaro said.

Community members were given the opportunity to ask questions, such as, “Why is Heritage Hill designated as a free speech zone?”

The majority of the outdoor UA Mall area, including Heritage Hill, is designated as a public forum, Adams Riester said. In the areas on the Mall, the UA cannot restrict free speech based on content.

“We can regulate times you can be out there, we can also regulate that if someone has asked to reserve that space and someone comes into that space and is disruptive of the program that disruption or the person causing the disruption can be asked to leave,” Adams Riester said.

The Dean of Students Office has spoken with Saxton in the past, since the fall of 2012, according to Washington White.

Saxton has been responsive to administrators who have spoken with him. The Dean of Students Office suggested he no longer bring his staff to campus anymore because it can be construed as a weapon. Dean took the suggestion and no longer brings it, Washington White said.

Washington White said she had “mixed feelings,” but was glad the forum was held.

“I mean, I think we accomplished what we set out to do which is to provide a forum for people to ask questions to seek clarification about … the fighting words, incitement that type of thing and help people understand time, place and manner [in regard to free speech],” Washington White said.

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