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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Head to Head: Free speech on campus and beyond

Columnist Connor Gilmore and guest columnist Nick Havey go head to head to debate the issue of free speech on and off college campuses. 

Nick Havey

The UA has a history of self-righteous ideologues loudly shouting that sorority girls, small children and tour groups of potential students “deserve rape.” 

While this isn’t an uncommon practice on college campuses, it represents a perversion of the First Amendment granted right to freedom of speech. Not so shockingly, the bigots, sexists and commonplace assholes that are generally condemned for saying unspeakable and incendiary things think that their First Amendment protected right to freedom of speech is under attack.

Unsurprisingly the same people that are up in arms about their reduced public presence—sorry that your historically-unavoidable, predominantly white ideas are being hedged out by better spoken, nicer minorities—also seem to think that their belief in God protects constitutional rights from being amended or infringed upon.

Let’s get one thing straight — your rights are not “God-given,” they were created by a ton of straight, white men and are amendable. If two-thirds of both the house and the senate — or if a two-thirds of state legislatures brought it up — decide that something should be amended and vote on it, that right can be taken away or adjusted and God is not going to intervene.

When universities take action to disinvite problematic speakers they are simply curating a campus climate that is less harmful to students, faculty and staff alike. When they require speakers/demagogues to move to designated zones — often referred to as “free speech zones” — they are likely just enforcing the First Amendment and Campus Use policies for their institutions.

The UA is restricted from “placing selective limitations on speech/expression if it is insensitive, boorish or expressive view points on disfavored subjects” and forbidden from “regulating or punishing speech or expression of ideas/messages because they are offensive or controversial,” which is legalese they can’t stop you from being an asshole.

That being said, speech which is likely to incite imminent lawless action – for instance when Brother Dean was recently punched by a woman he was harassing –or speech which is “harassing —severe, pervasive, persistent, or hateful toward one person— disruptive/not appropriate to the forum” or constitutes “discrimination, harassment, retaliation against an individual based on a protected class —minorities who don’t live within the protective bubble of white, male privilege— can be regulated.

While a public university’s campus is obviously free to the public, it is zoned and intended for uses pertinent to higher education and is subsequently segmented into public spaces such as our mall. Spaces such as classrooms and buildings do not constitute the same type of space and it is absolutely appropriate to remove people screaming hateful words within a building or in front of the entrance to one when they may be barring, threatening or harassing potential entrants.

Long story short, you’re more than welcome to stand in the middle of the grass and speak your truth regardless of the xenophobia, homophobia, sexism or racism it represents, you just can’t verbally assault people without potential consequence.

In another vein, it has been argued that certain political groups or student organizations on college campuses like the University of Oregon and Wesleyan have been disbanded, prevented from forming or threatened on the basis of their statements. The UA has hundreds of clubs which exist regardless of the stupidity of their content or message.

In regards to speakers being disinvited from campus events, it’s not surprising that any institution of higher education would act to protect its students from verbal harassment that they would end up paying for in student fees. Ben Shapiro, notorious Breitbart columnist and Twitter victim, was disinvited from a speaking engagement at the Los Angeles campus of California State University because of his generally xenophobic, racist and sexist comments and specific opposition of the Black Lives Matter movement.

CSU Los Angeles, of course, is predominantly composed of minority students—only 7.6 percent is white—who undoubtedly have no interest in having their tuition money go to hearing a neoconservative jackass criticize and question the value of their existence. His speech was literally titled “When Diversity Becomes a Problem”. Shapiro later sued the school for “violating his rights.”

Removing vitriolic speakers and regulating the location, volume and time of hate speech is not an infringement, it’s only serving to stop a sorority girl, who you probably shame for being sexually autonomous while simultaneously not wanting to fuck you, from punching you in the face. If you think your First Amendment right to freedom of speech is being violated, it might just also be a coincidence that you’re saying some things that are better reserved for the privacy of your own thoughts, or the 1800s. 

Connor Gilmore

Freedom of speech is our God-given and constitutional right and no one has the right to take it away. Our ancestors fought a revolutionary war in part for it. The Founding Fathers put it first among the amendments. For centuries, soldiers have fought and died to protect it.

University administrations across the U.S. have taken a role in restricting students’ and others’ First Amendment right by dis-inviting speakers from events and in certain cases, even relegating free speech to “free speech zones”. While the UA does not have free speech zones, these administrative actions are harming students of other universities.

As described by Jennifer Ross in the San Francisco Law Review, censorship by university administration harms students by trampling on their rights and weakening the critical thinking skills they need for their future careers.

University administrations are not alone in restricting free speech. Students have played a leading role in silencing others whose views do not fall in line with their own.

Take for example, the student senator at the University of Tennessee–Chattanooga. She chalked pro-Donald Trump messages on campus and was asked to resign by students and by the student government for perpetuating “hatred” and “bigotry”.

Student governments have exercised their control over students’ free speech by denying platforms for free speech like at the University of Oregon where they denied group status to the group Students for Rand or at Wesleyan University where they threatened to cut funding for the newspaper over an op-ed criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement.

Students are not alone as guest speakers are silenced as well.

Democratic strategist Kirsten Powers explains how relentless these students can be in their commitment to rob speakers of their freedom of speech when she writes, “When the mob is unsuccessful in pressuring campus administrators into canceling a speech, or shaming the speaker into withdrawing, then they utilize the ‘heckler’s veto’ to harass and intimidate”.

When Ben Shapiro, a conservative columnist and commentator was invited to speak at California State University, Los Angeles, he faced intense protests on campus from students who called him “racist”, as he opposed the Black Lives Matter movement. Coming to speak regardless of the university administration’s event cancellation, student protesters, like “mature” college-aged students, pulled the fire alarm so as to silence him.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), conservative guest speakers are now twice as likely as liberal guest speakers to be dis-invited from a college/university speaking engagement.

Yet the students who strive to consistently deny the sacred right to freedom of speech do not just muzzle conservatives–they do the same to liberals. Particularly, liberals who can appreciate a difference of opinion and who do not share the same radical vision.

As explained by lifelong liberal and Democratic strategist Kirsten Powers in her book “The Silencing,” “Toleration and free expression have been central to modern liberalism, stemming from a proud tradition tracing its roots to the writings of Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill. While watching the illiberal left in action, it’s easy to forget that it was the political left that championed free speech in America”.

At Yale, Erika Christakis, a liberal sociology professor, responded to an email that asked people to consider the cultural impact of their costume, replying “Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people? It’s not mine, I know that.” Consequently, students yelled/screamed at her husband and asked her to resign.

However, professors are not solely victims as in the case of Mizzou professor Melissa Click who called for some “muscle” to throw a student reporter out from reporting on the strike last year at Mizzou. Or in the case of Assistant Professor Wiede at CSU-LA who called the police on students for putting up flyers for the Shapiro event, calling them “white supremacists”.

The examples and evidence are endless, but the point is that our freedom of speech is God-given, sacred and constitutional. No one, including university administration, students and professors has the right to diminish it or take it away.

Follow Nick Havey on Twitter.

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