Free Speech Feud

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Free Speech Feud

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Student Government senators proposed banning TPUSA from campus, fueling the partisan divide on campus

Student Government senators proposed a resolution during the April 1 meeting to bar conservative student organization Turning Point USA from the university on the grounds of protecting minority groups from effects of what they consider racist ideas. The legislation was met with conflict from all conservative groups on campus, who claimed it was a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech.

In the legislation, the Texas State chapter of the national conservative organization was accused of harassing students and faculty, promoting white supremacy, illegally funding Student Government candidates, manipulating course content and protecting hate speech under the guise of the First Amendment. Last fall, TPUSA was accused of funding former Student Government President Brooklyn Boreing during her spring 2018 election campaign.

According to its website, Turning Point USA’s mission is to educate students about the importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government.

The Student Government resolution has drawn the attention of Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, and TPUSA founder, Charlie Kirk. Gov. Abbott recently proposed a bill to the Texas Senate to designate all outdoor common areas as free-speech zones.

Claudia Gasponi, general studies senior, is a senator for the University College and co-authored the legislation. Student Senator Trevor Newman, public administration sophomore, also helped write the resolution to remove TPUSA from campus. Gasponi and Newman maintain the legislation is to improve the safety of students and staff on campus.

“This is not about free speech. It’s about harassment, electoral corruption and association with white supremacy. None of that is free speech,” Gasponi said. “The legislation is about student safety.”

Stormi Rodriguez, political science and communications senior, has been the president of the Texas State chapter of TPUSA for two consecutive years. She claims to have no idea where most of the allegations come from and that they are all unsupported.

“I just want to make it clear, this is not a well-researched or well organized or well-sourced piece of legislation,” Rodriguez said. “I know it doesn’t represent the opinions of all student senators, and I know it doesn’t represent the opinions of all Student Government. I think it is setting a dangerous precedent towards a dangerous trend for our campus if students think we have the ability to completely remove an organization that they simply disagree with.”

Gasponi is confident that every accusation made against the conservative group is supported and accumulated from a year and a half of research.

“Everything is cited and if you read through those sources, everything I am saying is 100 percent backed up,” Gasponi said. “The only thing that isn’t 100 percent backed up with evidence is probably the list of names (of Student Government officials tied to TPUSA). I am personally incredibly confident that all of this information is true because I have been privy to a lot of evidence that hasn’t been made available to the public.”

A source cited in the legislation to confirm many of the allegations against TPUSA is an article published by Maximillian Alvarez in The Baffler titled, “No Re-Turning Point, U.S.A.” Within the article is evidence of TPUSA creating a hostile work and learning environment, harassing, intimidating and threatening students and faculty and manipulating course content and degree programs on a national level.

The conservative organization was accused of white supremacy due in part to a thread of controversial tweets found from TPUSA Social Media Coordinator Kaitlinn Crump dating back to 2014. Included in the thread is a picture where Crump is wearing blackface.

Rodriguez addressed this issue saying TPUSA was unaware of the tweets and took the appropriate action by firing Crump shortly after the tweets were brought to light. The Texas State chapter also posted a strongly worded condemnation of the tweets on their social media.

Newman supports the claim of TPUSA being responsible for hate speech and said that after publishing the legislation he began to leave the house in fear and that left-leaning students were being targeted on campus.

“We are scared for ourselves, our faculty and the other students. I have never felt this unsafe on campus before,” Newman said. “All this week, I have been very hesitant to go to class; my anxiety has been very high, and anytime I see someone who I know is conservative or a part of Turning Point I feel very uncomfortable and unsafe.”

The legislation also claims TPUSA has used “their placement on campus to manipulate course content and degree programs available to students based on their conservative agenda, regardless of general student enrollment, student reviews or course content value,” with their use of the Professor Watchlist. The professor watchlist is the documentation of professors across the country that have been flagged to have said controversial or left-leaning remarks in the classroom.

The resolution also brought up the long-debated claims that TPUSA has given illegal funds and resources to student body president campaigns, which was unable to be proven following the formal investigation by Student Government.

In an email sent on Thursday, April 4 to all current Texas State students by the Vice President of Student Affairs office, the university reaffirmed their support of First Amendment rights and the rights of organizations to express free speech. The university also released a statement denouncing Student Government’s lack of authority to remove an organization from campus.

The email references Texas State President Denise Trauth’s position on the rules the university upholds supporting freedom of discussion to support intellectual development.

“Texas State is a place where ideas are expressed and debated; where minds are changed; where an opinion some consider offensive is protected; where faculty members know that they will be supported, especially when they present ideas and information that are unpopular,” Trauth said. “We treasure our ability to engage in dialogue about difficult subjects, and we do that in an inclusive and supportive environment for all members of our community.”

The senators that wrote the legislation were anticipating this response from Trauth and the administration at Texas State, with Newman voicing concerns over the administration’s tendency to cater more to the institution’s needs and not the needs of the student body.

“I think the university administration has a tendency to submit or suppress student voices and suppress Student Government. Even if we pass this resolution, as much as I would like something to happen and as much as I would like Turning Point to get kicked off this universities campus, I don’t see the administration taking action on that because they have such a tendency of not listening to students,” Newman said.

Many other senators were in concurrence with this opinion, knowing that even if it passes through the Senate, it may not be passed by the administration.

Speech is not categorically excluded from the First Amendment because it is viewed as hateful or racist. A recent student body president at Texas State earned himself an impeachment in part because he took a similar position, agitating for a loss of funding of the student newspaper over an article he viewed as “racist.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education advocates for freedom of speech on college campuses. The FIRE has ranked Texas State among the worst campuses for free speech and cited Conner Clegg’s efforts to defund The University Star in its statement regarding the legislation.

“Should it pass, Texas State University is barred by the First Amendment from effectuating these demands. While the Texas State Student Government is free to condemn TPUSA and demand that they be barred from campus, Texas State as an entity may not give in to the demand to bar a group from campus, or deny it recognition or funding because of its beliefs or advocacy,” FIRE stated.