Free Speech on Campus
Prya Oliveira, Staff Writer
The controversy between free speech and hate speech has become a popular topic because of the recent campus protests around the U.S. The use of hate speech on campus is widely debated within governmental and academic institutions. Universities like the Evergreen State College and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) are broadcasted on news outlets for their student protests on campus. In the United States, free speech is protected at public universities. However, private universities, like Saint Martin’s, are not legally bound to protect speech. Our code of conduct states that forms of hate speech are not protected on this campus, and that Saint Martin’s has the right to do this because it is a private institution. Both public and private colleges and universities often receive pressure to allow free speech, as higher education institutions are supposed to be places where conflicting opinions are shared.
Evergreen State College recently had a viral protest over the annual “Day of Absence.” This event was based off a play where black people disappeared for a day, portraying the racist attitudes that people embedded into society. In past years, the minority students and faculty would go off campus to talk about campus issues and how to improve student life. However, in 2017 they changed up the day and wanted white people to stay off campus.
Some at Evergreen opposed this practice, including Professor Bret Weinstien, who taught biology. When describing his stance to protest the protest, he said, “The first is a forceful call to consciousness, which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.” After refusing to participate in the Day of Absence, Weinstein received threats from student activists. There was a video of the students screaming obscenities at Weinstein, telling him to quit his job. They called him a white supremacist, and a supporter of the systemic racism that was on campus. The students then questioned the intentions of Evergreen’s president, George Bridges, and demanded that he fire Weinstein.
There are many perspectives on this controversial issue, creating the bigger question of whether hate speech is allowed on campus. The government can only regulate speech when there is a clear and present danger. This can sometimes be tricky since it is difficult to monitor what is considered hate speech. Because it is interpreted differently by every person, people find it hard to draw the line between hate speech, and free speech. “Speech codes,” and attempts to shut down various forms of non-violent free speech on public campuses have generally fared poorly in the courts.
Some argue that campus officials have no right to limit the speech its students, but others argue that by not restricting speech, hate speech on campus will increase. In a recent UCLA debate, law experts discussed the First Amendment application on their own campuses. In order to ensure that safety of their students, controversial speakers needed to speak in auditoriums, and those who wanted to watch the speech needed tickets to do so. This provided safety to the speaker and the audience while allowing both parties to freely speak. Erwin Chemerinsky, the Dean of University of California Berkeley School of Law supports the idea that universities should be open to hearing all ideas, and being able to accept the challenges in order to improve issues spoken by students. The UCLA law panel concluded that having the right to speak against hate speech also protects the hate speech itself and that holding one speech to a standard, but not the other, creates an injustice.
It is difficult to define hate speech because everyone has their own definition of what that is. When it is heard on campus, we turn to the university officials to do something about it. But sometimes we forget that issues regarding the First Amendment have a harder time getting resolved because of who can regulate it and who cannot. Saint Martin’s University lists what forms of speech are not allowed on campus, including offensive jokes and derogatory comments. It is important to remember that hate speech on this campus is not allowed, nor is it protected.