Is It Possible for College Students to Defend Free Speech?

Is It Possible for College Students to Defend Free Speech
Sam Houston State University

Sam Houston State University

College campuses around the US have taken heat for failing to defend Free Speech. Students of all backgrounds have demanded that so-called “microaggressions” be outlawed on campus, and administrators have failed to resolve the situation. According to Reason TV’s report on microaggressions at Occidental College, a microaggression is a “statement which communicates hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

Protests against microaggressions have come in various forms. At Yale University, a lecturer resigned after students protested her statement that people should dress as liberally as possible on Halloween, even if that means offending somebody. At the University of California San Diego, a satirical student newspaper was censored for publishing material deemed too offensive. At Harvard University, students demanded a Palestinian Law student be punished for calling an Israeli dignitary “smelly.” At the University of Missouri, students went as far as to push journalists out of their “safe space.”

The demand for censorship on campus has led many to wonder whether today’s college students care about Free Speech at all. While the list of anti-Free Speech examples grows longer by the day, the students at Sam Houston State University have proven that even if a majority of their peers don’t support Free Speech, they still do.

Morgan Freeman, organizer of the Free Speech Wall

Morgan Freeman, organizer of the Free Speech Wall

SHSU’s Free Speech controversy began when administrators declared they should have direct editing control over any media that bore the logo of their Bearcat mascot. Led by philosophy major Morgan Freeman, students responded by constructing a Free Speech Wall on campus, a 24-feet wall on which anything could be written.

Nearly every group on campus backed the movement including the Libertarians, the Democrats, the Socialists, and even the Marijuana-advocacy group. Individual students also took to the wall to criticize the university’s president, the American government, their parents’ beliefs, and their boyfriends’ mishaps.

The Free Speech Wall, a monument in opposition to the university’s attempt at stifling Free Speech, came under attack itself when one student used the wall to write “F*** Obama.” Upon coming across the comment, one professor sought out Freeman and demanded that the comment be censored. When she responded that the statement would not be censored, the professor took matters into his own hands.

The professor left for his office and returned a few minutes later with a box-cutter. Intent on getting his way, he used the box-cutter to carve the statement out of the wall and throw it in the trash. Students voiced their opposition as they watched their Free Speech Wall be denigrated. Tensions rose and  a campus police officer was summoned to quell the unrest. After interviewing both the students and the professor the police officer told Freeman she had three options: take down the wall, cover up all the profanity, or censor all offensive statements. Freeman would face a misdemeanor charge if one of these options was not met.

Freeman and posse decided to take down the wall rather than “make a mockery of Free Speech” by engaging in censorship. Though they lost the battle, Freeman is proud of what she and her group accomplished. She says in an interview with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, “Having the ability to criticize political leaders is a fundamental of a free society. If you can’t criticize your leaders, you’re not free.”

 

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