Photo via Flickr Darron Birgenheier
On March 21, President Trump, Education Secretary Betsy Devos and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar gathered in the east room of the White House to sign an executive order for free speech on college campuses. Trump said signing the order was a “historic action to defend American students and American values that have been under siege.”
While many were excited about this order, including the Young America’s Foundation, which is a large foundation advocating for free speech on both high school and college campuses, it still raised questions about why an order was being signed on something that was already supposed to be implemented.
The order directs different federal grant-awarding agencies to ensure that colleges are following the law and policies to promote free speech and debate. In his address, Trump focused on how people can have different opinions but that the opposing side has to allow you to speak, regardless of how different their beliefs are. The president also promised that this order would be the first of many steps taken by his administration in protecting free speech and students’ rights. He said that federal funding will be contingent on whether universities follow the guidelines on free speech.
With funding depending on how strictly the universities follow the order, it raises the question: Who will be the one to define free speech?
The order begins with an outline of its meaning. “The purpose of this order is to enhance the quality of postsecondary education by making it more affordable, more transparent, and more accountable. Institutions of higher education … should be accountable both for student outcomes and for student life on campus.”
Many believe this order stems from two years ago when conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos’ visit to the University of California at Berkeley was cancelled after protests arose on campus. There have been multiple instances where both liberal and conservative students felt silenced by their university for their political opinions. The order may have importance in defending students and how they express themselves.
Freshman Desiree Peterson believes strongly in freedom of speech on campus. “There are many limits on what we can do, but we should at least have the right to say what we believe without fear of consequences,” she said. “Being able to speak my mind is important for me as a student, especially if I am voicing my opinions about the university.”
She says it is important for students’ wants and needs to be represented to the administration.
“I believe UNO does a good job with listening to its students and acting on the feedback that they get from us,” Peterson said. “Politics aside, it’s just what is in best interest for all the students.”
Said Peterson, while Trump’s order may be just to blur the line between free speech and hate speech, it is still important for all students to feel like they have a platform to safely express their views.