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Fear Shouldn’t Dictate Action

in Education, Elections and Politics, First Amendment, Freedom On Campus, Liberator Online by Chloe Anagnos Comments are off

Fear Shouldn’t Dictate Action

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

In the last year, dozens of student protests on college campuses have called for everything from supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement to demanding that school administrators address microaggressions on campus. From Mizzou to Yale University and Occidental College, these
demands have garnered national attention.

ClevelandBut one of the most recent incidents that happened on a college campus? A “safe space” that was provided by Case Western Reserve University in order to “assist those psychologically or physically traumatized by the prospect of Republicans being in Cleveland and giving speeches,” that hardly anyone utilized.

Located a few miles from where the Republican National Convention was held, the university made a statement in The Daily, that the private school’s Social Justice Institute “will host a ‘safe space’” in the basement of Crawford Hall for the duration of the convention.

“After extensive consultation among our leadership team and discussions in last week’s open forums, we have decided that the university will reduce its on-campus operations significantly from Monday, July 18, through the close of the convention Thursday, July 21,” the statement explained.

Classes were cancelled or moved off campus. Essentially, faculty, staff, and students were told to take the week off. The statement also reminded students that University Counseling Services would “continue to offer walk-in services for students who want to talk with someone about their concerns related to recent events and/or the upcoming convention.”

According to The College Fix, Case Western closed down most of that week because it allowed hundreds of police officers to stay in their residence halls for the duration of the RNC. (And that made a few groups very unhappy.)

“Recent events” in the university’s statement must have referred to the number of altercations between police officers and civilians this summer. The deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas have had this country on edge. Protests leading up to and during the Republican National Convention were expected to be large and violent, but according to The Washington Post, they were small and uneventful.

It’s understandable that the university wanted to look out for the safety of faculty, staff, and students. But as an institution of higher education, isn’t it important to teach young people that fear should never win or dictate action?

Instead of using current events as a teachable moment, the “better safe than sorry” mentality only succeeded in drawing attention away from what was really important for students – their education.

There Is Hope! – How to Safeguard Free Speech On Campus

in First Amendment, Freedom On Campus, Liberator Online by Chloe Anagnos Comments are off

There Is Hope! – How to Safeguard Free Speech On Campus

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

For the last year, I’ve written more than a dozen articles about free speech on college campuses. From safe spaces, to microaggression reporting systems, and multiple campus protests that received national attention, it is clear that our nation’s universities are doing its students a disservice when administrators create nonsensical consequences for forms of speech that they don’t like.

UCAlthough it seems like the First Amendment is a fading part of campus life, there is hope, and a few simple ways to safeguard free speech at colleges and universities.

On Tuesday, a professor at the University of Chicago wrote an opinion piece for RealClearPolitics, outlining a five-point plan for reversing the trend of restricting potentially offensive speech.

In it, Charles Lipson argues that free speech on college campuses is on the verge of becoming extinct, and that administrators are largely to blame for the increased censorship.

“Today, dean-of-students offices are devoted to comforting delicate snowflakes and soothing their feelings. If that means stamping out others’ speech, too bad.”

His solution? It starts with communication at all levels. Step one, he says, is to make sure that the board of trustees “demands to know if free speech is protected on their campuses, in principle and in practice.” Then, he says that university presidents and top administrators should be held accountable for those results.

Second, he says that college acceptance letters should stress that, “our school believes in free speech, open debate, and diverse opinions. You will hear different views on controversial topics. You are urged to read, write, and develop your own views, but you may not suppress others.”

Lipson points out that students who are afraid of intellectual challenges should go to school elsewhere.

Third, he argues that one administrator should be appointed strictly to monitor free speech activities and to make sure that open debate happens on campus. Next, he demands that, “student affairs offices stop suppressing basic academic freedoms and start supporting them.” Lipson mentions that the office of student affairs shouldn’t exist to shield students from uncomfortable ideas or to suppress their speech.

Finally, Lipson wants students to know that they have every right to protest peacefully, but they have no right to disrupt others, and they will be punished if they do. He expresses that administrators who “coddle rabble-rousers” often ignore their corrosive effects.

Similarly, administrators at Gettysburg College created a new speech policy in April, which stresses the college’s commitment to free expression – even when forms of expression are seen as offensive. This comes after some student groups became upset about pro-life posters on campus.

The policy reads in part:

“Any effort by members of the College community to limit openness in this academic community is a matter of serious concern and militates against the freedom of expression and the discovery of truth. Each member of the community is therefore free to express their point of view on, or opposition to, any issue of public interest within reasonable restrictions of time, place and manner. Each member of the community is also expected to help guarantee the ability of other community members to express themselves freely. No group or individual has the right to interfere with the legitimate activity of other authorized persons and groups as interference with expression compromises the College’s goal of creating an environment where issues can be openly discussed.”

Although some of the steps proposed may seem small, they could do wonders for free speech on college campuses if implemented by administrators.

“Safe Spaces” Used to Silence Political Speech

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty by Chloe Anagnos Comments are off

“Safe Spaces” Used to Silence Political Speech

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

In the last year, dozens of protests on college campuses have called for everything from supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement to demanding that school administrators address racial microaggressions on campus. These protesters and students alike call for “safe spaces” on campuses so that they can have an open dialogue about these issues. But what they don’t realize is that these “safe spaces” are being used to silence political speech – especially speech that they don’t agree with.

Free Speech

For example, George Washington University police ordered a student to take down a Palestinian flag that was hanging from his dorm window because it was not “respectful of your peers,” according to an administrator.

Ramie Abounaja, a 20-year-old pre-med student, was visited by a GWU police officer in October. The officer claimed he had received “numerous complaints” about the flag and wouldn’t leave the room until it was removed. Abounaja complied, but later questioned whether he had actually violated any university policies.

According to Abounaja:

Then, on Tuesday, to my alarm, I received an email from the Graduate Fellow Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities stating that they “received a report from the GW University Police Department regarding [my] behavior” that I was “found to have had a flag out [my] window” and that the letter “serves as a warning that this behavior is a violation of the ‘Code of Student Conduct and/or the Residential Community Conduct Guidelines.’” The letter also warned me to be “respectful” of my “peers” that “my behavior had the potential to leave a profound impact on the community.” The letter (attached) did not provide any details as to which provision, article or rule I violated.

According to The Intercept’s Andrew Fishman, GWU has no policy barring flags on the inside of dorm rooms, but it does prohibit flags hanging outside of the dorms – even though numerous amounts of flags have been seen flying outside of GWU dorm windows.
It seems as if the police are only called to remove flags that have offended others. Certainly, Abounaja is a victim of viewpoint discrimination. This kind of censorship—censorship of pro-Palestinian speech—is common according to Fishman:

Campus free speech and so-called “political correctness censorship” have been vigorously debated over the last two decades. That topic received particularly intense attention from journalists and pundits this year in response to controversies at the University of Missouri, Yale and other campuses.

In the first half of 2015 alone, Palestine Legal, a U.S. civil rights advocacy organization, has reported 140 instances of suppression of Palestine advocacy, 80 percent of which has happened on college campuses.

A Jewish student at the University of Michigan was recently investigated by a student government ethics commission after Palestinian students took offense at him aggressively criticizing a pro-Palestinian display. According to The College Fix, the commission affirmed that the student had a First Amendment right to question the demonstrators.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fired Professor Steven Salaita for his anti-Israel tweets and his lawsuit is currently moving forward in a federal court. The University of California is attempting to label all criticism of the state of Israel as anti-Semitic hate speech and Occidental College may institute a microaggression reporting system.

The First Amendment rights of everyone are in danger if one person’s freedom of expression can be diminished by an administrator, campus police officer, or an emotional student. The words “hateful” and “offensive” are relative terms. We cannot protect the kinds of speech we find to be agreeable unless we can also protect the kinds of speech we find disagreeable.