Freedom of Speech Is in Limited Supply on Campus
The First Amendment reads that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The First Amendment does not, however offer protection from the backlash of other individuals. The conversations had between individuals of differing opinion often become hostile, sometimes degrading into shouting matches or even acts of violence.
“As Americans we have the right to express how we feel and say what is needed of us, not because everyone has a right to express themselves,” says WCC student Gerardo Lizarraga. “As an American you are entitled to free speech whether no one else agrees with you.”
In the United States, the freedom to express oneself is valued above most other rights. It allows peaceful protests, but at the very same time it allows religious groups to jeer and spit at a woman entering a Planned Parenthood clinic, or permitting a march for the Klu Klux Klan.
Essentially, the First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition, forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others, and restricting an individual’s religious practices. It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely, and also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.
This does not have to be followed by college institutions however. Indeed, private and public institutions have the ability to forbid, deny or restrict certain language or speakers on their campuses.
“The argument that is used, which I don’t buy, is to anticipate the reactions of the people who don’t want to hear the speech, which is true because sometimes they can lead to riots,” said George Keteku, WCC Professor and Social Science Chair. “The problem is not the speech, but the potential riots.”
Many topics are heavily politicised, passions run high when discussing such things. This is why many speakers get protested on college campuses. In some cases, when the speakers are invited by the schools themselves, rarely are the speakers banned by the school, but instead protested by students. The protests often result in the the talks being canceled or postponed.
The schools acknowledge that there is a certain danger with inviting the certain speakers, and students are aware of their own power to to shut down these speakers as seen in Berkeley, Middlebury, and other education institutions across the country.
While coverage of this controversial topic has increased, it is nothing new. Dating back to before the Civil Rights movement, public speakers have been turned away from colleges. As of recent years, conservative speakers have seen a rise in outlash with their presence. More specifically, those who are deemed to be of the Alt-Right movement.
From Ben Shapiro, and Ann Coulter to the infamous Richard Spencer, Right Wing and Conservative speakers have been declined from speaking on campus, and if not, violent protests greet the presentators. While it may be a view that a violation of free speech has been made, it’s not necessarily against the law to do this.
Universities can create rules and restrictions governing such speakers, but the rules must be applied fairly and have nothing to do with the speakers or their speech content. WCC has some rules and regulations, but it starts at the student body level. WCC focuses on the education of students when it comes to inviting guest speakers.
“As I understand it, we ask student clubs to inform us of how a guest speaker is consistent with the mission of the club,” says WCC’s Director of College Community Relations Patrick Hennessey. “If the speaker is not consistent with the mission, it may mean that the event may not be approved.”
The student involvement policies and procedure guidelines state that “if a club/organizations wishes to hire an individual or group of individuals to provide a service to the college, a contract must be submitted for processing ten (10) business days in advance of the service being provided.” Some examples of services this includes lectures or live performances.
Potentially anyone be invited to speak, even controversial figures like Richard Spencer, but there is a process to be followed. In order to be invited to the college, a request must be made by a SGA recognized club who has the funding to support the speaker and that the presentation given is aligned with the mission of the organization.
For example, if the anime club wanted to bring Milo Yiannopoulos to campus, the SGA and student involvement would ask how his topic of conversation is connected to the mission of the anime club. In this case the club would be most likely denied because Yiannopoulos has no real connection to anime.
Regardless of the opinions or facts discussed, the constitution remains, as do the viewpoints of all American citizens. Banning speakers from campus won’t change that, but will instead isolate the young minds of college students.
“I would be opposed to a controversial figure speaking on campus because I disagree with their beliefs,” says WCC student Josue Lopez. However, Lopez also expressed that he supports freedom of speech without limitations. A popular contradiction by today’s standards. One can express themselves, so long as they have a similar viewpoint.
When entering the workforce, no longer within the safe spaces of their universities, it is unclear how the college students of today will react when they find that their coworkers see themselves on the other side of the political aisle.
Looking at popular media, it would seem that the American public has already become polarized, and shutting out all voices may prove to be more damaging than helpful. What college institutions should do, is prepare students for any encounter they face, including civil conversations with those whose thoughts differ from theirs.
“[Freedom of speech] to me means having the right to express yourself no matter what you have to say,” says WCC student Sreenu Sreedharan. “More events that bring people together, so that they can share their feelings and to listen to one another.”
Engage the student body with meaningful debates, critical thinking and understanding. If college is truly the place to prepare the minds of future, the place to start is here.
“In regards to protesting speakers, I support the right to protest, but I think it’s a lot more constructive to have a conversation,” said John Alexander, President of the WCC college Republican club. The campus Democrat and the Republican leaders both agree on this matter.
“I would say that speaking about something and engaging a debate is more important than censoring outright.” said Sam Lessem, President of the college Democrat club. As far as the idea of free speech, it seems that neither the college Democrats or Republicans were keen on censorship, both of them preferring a debate.
“Context is everything, if you have a guy making a public speech and he’s just kind of speaking into the wind that’s fine,” said Lessem. “But if that develops into inciting violence unto others or purposefully being antagonistic to another group, trying to incite a reaction, that’s on the philosophical border.”
The blurred line is the in determining whether or not the speech could cause immediate danger or if there is anything actually productive being said and not just a “troll.” At the end of the day, the only thing that limits speech on campus are the voices of students.