Talk it Out: Is free speech more important than campus safety?
December 12, 2019
Free speech must be protected even for hate groups
Sam Anderson, Opinion Columnist
College campuses are the perfect place to engage in dialogue with various individuals and groups. There should never be an attempt to shut down dissenting opinions.
Texas State is no stranger to the free speech debate. From the infamous white supremacy banner hung on Alkek to the four arrests made April 2019 following a spat between students, tensions have been high regarding what kind of speech is permitted.
Several weeks ago, President Denise Trauth sent out a school-wide email welcoming everyone back to school. All was well and good with the exception of one particular quote.
“At Texas State, we are vigilant in upholding free speech, and in protecting the safety and wellbeing of our community. Racism and bigotry have no place here. I denounce white supremacy and will do everything in my power to confront and reject all manifestations of discrimination and hate,” the email stated.
The quote itself is hypocritical. It is nearly impossible to uphold the First Amendment in one breath and denounce an entire group of dissenting opinions a few sentences later.
Student Government has been called out numerous times on their more-than-inequitable rulings in regards to dissenting political ideologies such as banning Turning Point USA.
The situation became an even bigger egg-on-face public relations nightmare once Gov. Gregg Abbot weighed in on the Turning Point USA issue. Abbott’s scalding remarks on Twitter then prompted the quick outpouring of support for the First Amendment and the above statement from Trauth.
This back-and-forth is increasingly problematic when reading the Office of Equity and Inclusion’s webpage, which is comprised of multiple statements about the Prohibition of Discrimination policy. The specifics get muddy when it comes down to reading the terms and conditions outlined in the Texas State University System policies and Internal University policies. Statements like recklessly (annoy) or alarm the recipient;” or incite a breach of peace” are vague at best.
If interpreted to ban hateful groups, this is unconstitutional on both state and federal levels. The arguably most famous part of the First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.”
Hate speech is protected under the Constitution and Texas legislatures have made very clear free speech is to be protected on college campuses specifically. Senate Bill 18 went into effect Sept. 1 and, “requires universities to allow any person to engage in free speech activities on campus.”
It is a harder goal to work toward a world where homophobes and gay people, racists and people of color, hateful people and those they hate can coexist with dissenting opinions.
Too often conservative speakers and groups like TPUSA are labeled as hate groups when in reality, they just reflect a different world view from select students and orginizations on campus.
Students can learn what it means to disagree and observe racism and bigotry in not just fellow students, but those outside of campus from an academic point of view. Individuals never get to ask hard questions and challenge beliefs if ideological-based groups are forced underground.
Exposure to ideas outside of our own can and will be hard. Managing justified backlash is a major hurdle. It is going to be hard on the university police to maintain control when tempers are tested. It is going to be even harder for the president of the university, the board of regents and the dean of students to manage difficult questions and to clearly define lines not to be crossed.
There are always going to be racist, homophobic, misogynistic and hateful people in the world because there will always be stupidity and ignorance. In the thousands of years humanity has evolved, people have not stopped hate.
By suppressing those presenting troubling or alarming views, university administration is telling students they are not smart enough to know what is right or wrong. It is undemocratic at best, and tyrannical at its worst. The university system can do better. It needs to do better.
The future of America depends on society learning to fundamentally disagree.
Free speech should not come at the expense of safety
Amira Van Leeuwen, Opinion Columnist
College campuses tend to encompass an overwhelming amount of different opinions and ideas when it comes to controversial topics. The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, press, expression, assembly and the right to petition, which select college students tend to use as a scapegoat to express their racist ideologies. Although not necessarily a bad thing, it can pose a magnitude of threats to college life.
Texas State is not the only university plagued with white supremacy, racist ideology and fascism. Two years ago, a large banner hung above Alkek Library with the painted words of “America is a White Nation,” shortly after the 2016 presidential election. A Boston College campus faced a similar ordeal in 2018 when a student vandalized a dorm with racist graffiti, which was later linked to a student who expressed support for the Ku Klux Klan and Hitler’s “perfect” race.
It is often left unsaid how these white supremacy and alt-right groups on campus provide an unsafe environment for college students that do not share such views. Lives are often taken as a result of hate groups who believe in things that have resulted in past genocide and racial segregation, which should have diminished dramatically in the late 1900s.
College campuses are playing tug-of-war with students who argue they have the right to express harmful ideals and hate speech. If there is any backlash from college campus officials, students cry First Amendment violation.
However, the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment does not protect behavior that is targeting, harassing, inciting violence or creating a hostile environment for vulnerable students.
Campus life has entered a new realm of protest and de-platforming other social groups. The issue is not students being prohibited from expressing their opinions; the issue is when equality and free speech are directly opposed in a seditious manner. In times when students have drawn attention to high-strung situations relating to a “violation” of the First Amendment, universities have tended to provide a general statement to soften the blow.
Although the perseverance of college administrators is more than admirable, the issue cannot be contained in a box with a few words placed in a mass email. Safety on campus should be just as important as ensuring students’ right to free speech.
However, when this right infringes on the safety of others, it is constitutionally prohibited if encouraging unlawful behavior. The Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) held the government may forbid “incitement speech,” which is likely to produce lawless action.
The right to free speech is vital to civic education. Without it, society would be unable to have public discourse among students. A person has the right to their opinion at any given time unless it stimulates an act of violence.
The polarization of the U.S. has led to severe acts of violence on college campuses. A recent example can be seen when an altercation arose on campus after a student knocked off another’s “Make America Great Again” hat. This resulted in a hostile situation leading to the arrest of four people.
The U.S. Constitution is a living, breathing document up for interpretation in any situation. There is no such thing as valuing another person’s First Amendment rights over other’s unalienable rights.
Protecting a student’s right to feel safe on campus needs to be weighed heavily when the legitimacy of right-winged idealists are discussed.