On campus censorship

Cassandra Jaskiewicz

No one should be stopping students from speaking their beliefs, but often this gets confused with the idea that people have to be forced to listen to them. People shouldn’t be subjected to abuse, harassment or harm. Events, presentations and debates are welcome to take place, but no one is required to attend these events. Students are welcome to take the stage, but the same goes for the audience. They have the right to stay or go in response to the message that is being disseminated. In most cases, ignoring the speaker’s message is just as much of a hindrance as denying the speaker a podium.

Freedom of speech on campuses is regulated in a very different way than in other public spaces, through the use of speech codes. These speech codes are university regulations that prohibit some verbal communication and expression that would normally be protected by the Constitution if such speech or expression happened in society at large. Often, these speech codes can be written into university policy, or simply be determined by the will of the university.

The University of New Orleans (UNO) is no different; it also has speech codes that limit students’ verbal expression. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) takes this problem of campus censorship head-on. They issue warnings to universities — a red light, yellow light or green light — to indicate that university’s treatment of freedom of speech. According to FIRE, UNO has earned a red-light rating for some of its speech policies.

UNO’s policy regarding discrimination, harassment, and retaliation inhibits freedom of speech to the point of instating guidelines for what student organizations should post on social media. Colleges are often regulating students in ways that government law would not.

An institution that has earned itself the red-light rating generally has at least one or more policies restricting freedom of speech, or goes as far as to not allow public access to the speech-related policy. UNO only has one policy that fits this description, but having one policy that inhibits freedom speech is already dangerous, in terms of FIRE’s rating system.

An institution that has a yellow-light rating has speech-related policies that could be interpreted as a way to suppress speech or help speech. This is a more complicated rating, but it would fall under policies that relate to sexual harassment and verbal abuse, as they are not something that can be easily defined. Finally, universities with green lights have policies that do not seriously threaten campus speech or expression. If a student has an incident with their school in which they feel their basic constitutional rights are being denied, FIRE will take their case.

There are many examples of trouble with university speech code regulations. There is the case of Northern Michigan University, which would take disciplinary action against any student or faculty member that talked about self harm or suicide, regardless as to the intent of the speaker. It wasn’t until 2016 that the regulation was changed.

Another example happened at Fordham University, when the United Student Government, as well as the Senate and Executive Board, approved a prospective Students for Justice in Palestine chapter. However, Keith Eldredge, Fordham’s dean of students, chose to overrule the United Student Government and deny the Students for Justice in Palestine any recognition. The rejected group went on to write a letter to National Coalition Against Censorship about the problem. The university then reinforced their rejection of the group.

Students must be critical of what they say and what they hear, but in order to create a well-rounded and knowledgeable opinion, first they must be exposed to new ideas and information. The only way to be exposed to new ideas and information is to risk seeing or hearing content that may be uncomfortable or even offensive. It is therefore a paramount responsibility of universities worldwide to ensure that flow of information is totally open, thereby doing their utmost to encourage the intellectual growth of their students. After all, a university’s number-one job is to make a well-rounded student.