Writing freedom of speech on campus essay is a great chance for every student to investigate the topic and form a personal position on it. Although the very first impulse of a student living in a democratic society is to oppose any restriction of free speech, the issue is more complex than it seems.
Let us first consider controversies and misconceptions about the free speech and its regulation, which can help you decide which side you support and what arguments you may include in the essay:
1. The examples of free speech on campus are a demonstration of political support, discussion of controversial topics, participation in protests, etc. However, there is another set of examples, too. It includes giving inappropriate comments, displaying posters or pictures, which may be offensive to certain minorities, creating posts and webpages that condemn or humiliate professors, etc.
- It is important to note that both sets of free speech expressions are protected by the First Amendment, even though the second set of examples verges on hate speech and fighting words.
- Therefore, those who support free speech regulation refer to the second set of examples and state that regulation is the means to prevent or respond to discrimination and harassment and assure the educational process is not disrupted.
- Those who oppose regulations point to the examples having a political context and say that the ‘prevention of harassment’ is only excuse establishments use to justify its practice of silencing the critics.
2. The fact that these are the establishments that wish to limit the student’s free speech is not always true. The current trend is that students not only support but also demand from their establishments the regulation of free speech. The universities have become much more diverse and (an important factor) much more expensive. Therefore, students who feel offended or humiliated by anything on campus are often eager to bring the fact to the authority or even to the court.
- This fact can be considered when arguing both for and against regulations. On the one hand, you may cite certain free speech expressions that may hurt minorities and are not to be allowed in the country, which strives for respect and equality (e.x. The York University’s benefactor, Paul Brockman, refused to support the university after the students hang a controversial anti-Semitic poster in the Student’s Center – the university allowed that respecting student’s free speech).
- On the other hand, you may cite the examples, which are the proofs of obvious exaggeration of such demands (e.x. to dismantle the monuments of colonialists, not to invite speakers with controversial ideas, not to be taught controversial texts of the past). Therefore, you may argue that regulations give a bad message to the students – to respond with silencing of the controversial issues rather than challenging them .
3. Not all students are aware of the fact that the First Amendment applies only to public institutions. Thus, private universities have the right to establish their own rules and policies concerning free speech on campus.
- The opponents of regulations may state that citizens’ rights should be respected in all educational establishments or that those who want regulations may choose the private establishments, which have strict policies in relation to free speech.
- Proponent of regulations in their turn may point to the fact that schools have always had many regulations: curricular, academic behavior, grading principles are all regulated in class. Why then should the behavior on campus be not regulated?
Here are some great sources, which can help you form and advocate your opinion in a freedom of speech on campus essay.
The article gives several examples of universities’ attacks on the free speech:
- A student was talking to another one about his campaign against National Security Agency’s spying;
- The University rejected the students’ campus club T-shirt promoting the legalization of marijuana;
- The faculty members faced pressure and attempt to shut their blog on the alleged administrative corruption.
(These examples are useful to argue against free speech restrictions)
The author also cites Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a group promoting free speech at colleges and universities, indicating that 58% out of 427 major colleges and universities have restrictive speech codes even though these policies suffered the “virtually unbroken string of legal defeats” since 1989. The organization suggests universities return to the same policies even after the courts make them abolish them because they “are scared of people who demand censorship – they’re afraid of lawsuits and PR problems. … they are more worried about that than about ignoring their 1st Amendment responsibilities”.
how to cite
In-text: … (Watanabee, 2014). Watanabee (2014) gives examples ….
Watanabee, T. (2014) Students challenge free-speech rules on college campuses. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from a web address.
In text: … (Watanabee). Watanabee gives examples ….
Watanabee, Teresa. “Students Challenge Free-Speech Rules on College Campuses”. Los Angeles Times, 1 Jul 2014, web address.
The article by First Amendment Center scholar starts with the great citation revealing the reason why the free speech regulation issue is so complex:
“It is an unfortunate fact of our constitutional system that the ideals of freedom and equality are often in conflict” Judge Avern Cohn, in Doe v. University of Michigan, 1989
The source nicely presents the arguments behind speech regulations, in particular, “critical race” theory, the proponents of which believe that “hate speech subjugates minority voices and prevents them from exercising their own First Amendment rights”.
The author explains the reason for the legal failure of restrictive codes – they are considered vague and overbroad even if they give actual examples of what will be considered a violation of the code, as it is impossible to account for all possible situations.
Several examples are given. The first discusses the University of Michigan, which developed a policy that prohibited:
“Any behavior, verbal or physical, that stigmatizes or victimizes an individual on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, creed … and that … Creates an intimidating, hostile, or demeaning environment for educational pursuits, employment or participation in University[-]sponsored extra-curricular activities.”
A guide was also written to explain the speech code to provide examples of harassing conduct. It specified such cases:
“You exclude someone from a study group because that person is of a different race, sex, or ethnic origin than you are.”
“You display a confederate flag on the door of your room in your residence hall.”
“You comment in a derogatory way about a particular person or group’s physical appearance or sexual orientation, or their cultural origins, or religious beliefs.”
Eventually, the code was challenged by one of the students at the court and was prohibited as overbroad.
Wisconsin speech-code case and Cross-burning case also exemplify good intentions of the universities fighting for diversity and respect to the race and gender, which nevertheless, lost the cases at the court.
Reading this article, one can think that speech regulations are always against the law, but it is possible to agree to many of the demands related to race and gender. Therefore, it may be the law, not codes, that has to be changed.
how to cite
In-text: … (Hudson, 2002). Hudson (2002) shows the controversy …
Hudson, D.L. (2002). Hate speech and campus speech codes. Retrieved from a web address.
In text: … (Hudson). Hudson (2002) shows the controversy …
Hudson, David L. “Hate Speech and Campus Speech Codes”, 13 Sep. 2002, web address.
The Sanneh’s article is very interesting to read. It again shows the controversy in the today’s society where everyone wants simultaneously to be protected against infringement of free speech and against harassment, which is the result of someone’s free speech.
The author does not support any side, rather criticizes both:
- On the one hand, he states that “free-speech advocates need not pretend that every provocative utterance is a valuable contribution to a robust debate” and “Some kinds of free speech really can be harmful, and people who want to defend it anyway should be willing to say so”.
- On the other hand, he criticizes the prominent free-speech skeptic, Jeremy Waldron stating that he doesn’t succeed in showing that speech provocations really incite hatred or undermine civil society.
The real problem the author points to is not the restriction of free speech or harassment due to lack of its regulation, but the hypersensitivity and politicization of the nation.
The examples given are:
- the dj was fired when two girls challenged “Blurred Lines” he played as promoting rape culture
- Minnesota university had to refuse from its idea to bring a camel to campus as a stress-relief treatment because one student thought that “camels are associated with stereotypes that reinforce harmful Western (read: white) perceptions of Arab people.”
An important fact that the author mentions is that despite its course for equality and protection of the dignity of the minorities, the U.S. is one of few countries that “refuse to honor a United Nations convention calling for laws against dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred’”
how to cite
In text: … (Sanneh, 2015). Sanneh (2015) criticizes …
Sanneh K. (2015). The hell you say: The new battles over free speech are fierce, but who is censoring whom? The New Yorker. Retrieved from a web address.
In text: … (Sanneh). Sanneh criticizes …
Sanneh K. “The Hell You Say: The New Battles over Free Speech are Fierce, but Who is Censoring Whom?” The New Yorker, 10 Aug. 2015, web address.
This is a great article to read on the topic and use when arguing against the restriction of free speech.
The author considers the regulation of free speech the demand of the students, which is as a growing trend in the American and British campuses. He argues the universities should not develop new and new policies just to please their students and create a safe place they demand.
The author names a direct reason for the change in student’s views: with the introduction of market principles, students have started to see themselves as customers and thus “have grown more ready to assert their rights and voice their dissatisfactions”. (the very idea may be used as the argument for the regulation of free speech)
The examples given are:
- Rodes taken from Oriel College building in Oxford for being “an offensive symbol of colonialism” following the students’ campaign,
- Students demanded the name of Woodrow Wilson, America’s 28th president and one-time head of Princeton to be removed from the university campus as an “offensive act of microaggression to the protesters”.
- Students demanded to include “trigger warnings” to alert students to syllabus material that might be distressing and many universities have adopted such policy
- almost two-fifths of student unions in Britain have “no-platform” policies, reserving the right to ban any speakers deemed offensive to students.
The author gives actual examples of speakers that were banned or disinvited. It was not to stop harassment or protect minorities’ rights but to create a safe place where no issues are raised at all. For example,
- among those who were refused to speak is Julie Bindel, the lesbian feminist and longtime campaigner against violence against women and the comedian Kate Smurthwaite, a feminist and activist against the sexual exploitation of women,
- the human-rights activist Maryam Namazie, spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims and campaigns for secularism and against Islamist extremism was refused a speech for being too “inflammatory” to be heard.
The great advantage of the article is that it provides many effective professors’ citations, which help argue against restrictions. Here are some of them:
Instead of intellectual robustness to challenge and debate views, academics are teaching that words can inflict violence and oppression and should be censored.
Education is not meant to be comfortable. Education should be about confronting ideas you find really objectionable.
I think I would have resisted the notion that ideas put over in a free debate were ‘threatening’. I remember feeling challenged, cross, outraged, provoked, inspired, but threatened, no.
how to cite:
In-text: … (Antony, 2016). Antony (2016) cites …
Antony, A. (2016). Is free speech in British universities under threat? The Guardian. Retrieved from a web address.
In-text: … (Antony). Antony cites …
Antony, Andrew. “Is Free Speech in British Universities under Threat?” The Guardian, 24 Jan. 2016, web address.
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