So, last week I mentioned some of the silly things I came across when looking at my old livejournal that I started in college. I found this piece, The Case for Free Speech on Campus, and, in light of the events happening right now, I felt like it was the right thing to post. You might not know that I was an op-ed in columnist in college. I know. Me? Spout off my opinions in a public forum? Never. I started writing my column after being involved in a very politically charged event that affected one of my high school friends and his family. I felt like I needed to have a voice among sheep. Someday I’ll tell you more about that, too. It was pivotal to my identity and the person I have become.
A little background: I graduated from a university that is very firmly in the Bible belt. It’s conservative. Conservative af, actually. Have you seen The Education of Shelby Knox? (If you haven’t, Netflix it.) That happened in the city where I attended high school and college. We had the highest teen pregnancy rate (and one of the highest STD rates) in the country and no one would entertain anything but abstinence only education policy. People ran off a tremendous teacher from my high school because he supported students who wanted to start a GSA chapter. And, the huge research university? They restricted free speech on campus to a small “free speech zone” removed from the middle of campus. Their rational? Because students, and I quote, “didn’t want to be forced to consider abortion or other things they don’t agree with on their way to class.”
…and on that note, someday, I’ll tell you how all these small instances turned me into a liberal, turned me against my university, and how this became one of the happiest days of my life.
The Case for Free Speech on Campus
Originally published: October 08, 2004
Earlier this summer, protesters were in an uproar about being kept too far in the background during the Democratic National Convention. They felt their right to free speech was being violated, and being kept at a distance rendered their protesting useless. When the topic came up on a Dallas talk radio station, my mom, a conservative Republican, decided to call into the show. She informed the host that at Texas Tech, I would be forced to protest in certain areas only, saying: “Apparently if she wants to think, she has to be in a free speech zone.”
The host was shocked at this, asking what we were supposed to be learning in college if not to think for ourselves. Are free speech zones the wave of the future?
Apparently not, according to U.S. District Judge Samuel Cummings, who ruled on the issue earlier this week. I always have been irritated by the idea of having free speech zones on campus and not being able to do anything about it. I never understood how limiting where we can protest or pass out information would disturb the learning process. After all, look at UC Berkeley. Berkeley is well-known as one of the most liberal campuses in the United States; someone always is taking a stand for something on his campus. However, the academic institution still is regarded as outstanding in a variety of areas. Obviously campus-wide free speech has not inhibited the learning process there.
A common complaint regarding free speech zones suggests students don’t want to be “harassed” on their way to class. Perhaps these students have become too comfortable in their own little worlds and cannot fathom having their ideas challenged.
I do not know why everyone came to college, but one of the greatest things for me has been that I have had my beliefs sharply questioned. I have been opened to new ideas and ways of thinking and have grown from the expansion. I have changed the way I think about some things and have remained steadfast in others. If professors cannot give us their opinions in class, and students cannot make a stand for what they believe on campus, how can we gain knowledge and understanding about both sides of the issues currently facing society?
Personally, I do not think all that much is going to change if Tech allowed free speech anywhere on campus. We are known as a traditionally conservative campus with few extremist groups. I scarcely think we are going to have protesters chasing us with their signs, damning us for not following their ways. Every protest line I ever passed by when I went to school in California was peaceful. It was just another group of people, giving information about its personal crusade.
This is a landmark decision that left my jaw hanging open and me running to all my Tech classmates in Italy, shouting the good news. My roommates didn’t understand the excitement because they don’t have free speech zones on their campuses. What Tech administrators decide to do in cooperation with the ruling is yet to be seen, but I hope they keep Berkeley in mind.
After all, broadening our horizons should be one reason why we are here. And for the students afraid to have their convictions called into question, you always can find a new route to class. Or, you can keep on walking and ignore protesters.