College campuses across the country have become the topic of heated discussion from all political angles as students protest free speech measures on their campus. OUTSET‘s Brittany Chapa highlighted the most recent of these stories last week, when a student senator at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga was asked to resign her post (and then un-asked to resign her post) because of her participation in a “chalking” at her campus. (Side note: please excuse the multiple quotations, but I find it hard to state many of these issues as serious ones.)
Enter Florida Atlantic University, where students are taking a stand for free speech and are ready to take their opinions to our administration. Our Student Government passed a resolution last week that would eliminate our free-speech lawn and define the entire campus as a free-speech zone.
I attend FAU and am politically active on campus. More than once, I’ve run into difficulty in putting on events because of the university’s restriction of political events to a designated free-speech lawn, tucked away on one side of campus. This lawn must be reserved at least ten business days in advance and its use approved by the administration; failure to reserve it results in your inability to use it. Its location makes it difficult to reach the greatest number of students, since only a few buildings are close enough to it to make it visible to passersby.
Thomas De Maio is a graduate student at FAU and serves as a member of Student Government. He authored a resolution that would eliminate our free speech lawn and allow free speech on all campus grounds, excluding only recreational and athletic buildings as off-limits. Below is a copy of the resolution, which passed by 91% of the student legislative body. Sponsors were added as the resolution appeared on the SGA agenda, but names were not available at the time of this publication.
Thomas is a friend of mine, and I spoke with him following passage of the resolution to get a little more information about this resolution and hear his thoughts about free speech on campuses around the country. Note that these are Thomas’s opinions and are not representative of his employer nor of the university (emphasis added):
What motivated you to propose such a resolution?
“I think it is important for universities to protect student’s constitutional rights. Too often students are afraid to express themselves on college campuses, especially those who have political views that may not be popular with professors. I want students to feel comfortable expressing themselves throughout all college campuses. College is a time of self-exploration. College is the time and place for students to challenge their core beliefs and begin to form opinions for themselves.
In recent times people have begun to be offended by everything. The rise in people “being offended” has lead to cases where students become emotionally frustrated at those who express opposing views of their own. This should never be the case. Just because someone expresses opinions that differ from your own does not mean that you should take it personal nor try to suppress the individual’s ability to express their opinions. People should not censor themselves in fear of offending another person, this will lead to a slippery slope where our first amendment will continually be infringed upon. Under the same token, people should express themselves in ways that do not force people to feel oppressed or in danger; there is a difference between attacking someone’s view point and having an open minded conversation with someone who has a different perspective about certain things. I have countless friends that I disagree with on a range of topics but it does not get in the way of us being friends.
The way I look at it is that you are never going to be right 100% of the time, and if you think you are going to always be right you need to seriously reconsider your life. Since you will not always have the answers it is beneficial to try and listen to opposing view points as they may either open your mind to a new idea or strengthen your opinion on the issue.
As long as students follow federal, state, and local laws in regards to the first amendment than there should never be an issue of Free Speech on a college campus. For decades college students have participated in peaceful protests and demonstrations and I believe that it is important that we continue to allow these processes to take place. When we voted on the legislation passionate students stood up and spoke about how important the first amendment and our constitution meant to them. One student recently went through the immigration process to become a legal US citizen and talked about how he took the oath to protect the constitution. That student went on to talk about how he lived in Russia and Egypt and has seen, first hand, the affects of governments that try to prevent the free speech of their citizens. Another student reminded the FAU House of Reps members that people have fought and died for us to have the right of freedom of speech as well as our other constitutional rights and the importance to protect those rights. A third student told me about how she grew up in a country where she was personally attacked for trying to express her thoughts on certain topics and how the resolution really resonated with her. I feel like Americans, myself included, sometimes take for granted the freedoms and liberties we have within our society.
As someone born into this country I did not have to take an oath to protect the Constitution the same way my friends who immigrated here had to. Many Americans are not aware what it is like to live in a country that does not protect our unalienable rights. One of my best friends is a veteran and he told me that he remembers coming back to the States after his deployment and realizing just how ignorant many Americans are in regards to just how lucky we are to live in such an amazing country. He explained to me that compared to the parts of the world he visited, we practically live in a Utopian society.
As some countries oppress their citizens and others have people struggling to get food and clean water for their families, our country is obsessed with reality TV, cat videos, and tends to argue over some of the most silly things. People need to wake up and realize that we are blessed to live in such a great country and it is important for us all to come together in order to strengthen it from within, giving our citizens more freedoms and liberties. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said ‘We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.’ It is time we look past the issues that divide us and unite behind those that bring us together; protecting the first amendment and the rest of our constitution should be at the forefront of that battle.”
How does this relate to the growing unrest about free speech on campuses around the country?
“College students should not be afraid to express their opinions on their campuses. If we make students second guess expressing themselves then we are restraining their ability to learn.
Many Americans, including students, have been buying into the hatred and division that we constantly see on the television. You cannot turn on the news without hearing stories that divide us or make us feel horrible about the world we live in. This resolution [protecting free speech on a college campus] is a topic that everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, political views, etc. should be able to get behind. President Obama talked about the importance of hearing contrasting opinions while in college and I think it is important that every student fight for their rights around the country. It kind of blew my mind that some students voted “no” on my legislation. Who would vote to limit one’s free speech? Luckily, 91% of the voting body found the resolution championing free speech to be something worth fighting for and voted ‘yes.’ After the meeting I had groups of students coming over to me, shaking my hand, and thanking me for the legislation and fighting for our rights.”
What is your opinion on “the chalkening”? Have college students become too easily offended?
“‘The chalkening’ is an interesting one because it took place at a private university. At the offset, I think it is silly that students would throw a fit over something as simple as students writing the names of a presidential candidate on campus in chalk. The reason why I think this situation is a difficult one is because I do not know what the school’s policies are on using chalk around campus. It may sound odd to some people but private institutions have more control over these sorts of policies than public universities may.
Back to the specific writings, though, I think one of the reasons it got so much press was because of the specific presidential candidate the students “chalked” campus supporting. I think that the Young American’s for Liberty chapter at Emory handled the situation perfectly! Instead of starting an argument with the students who were ‘afraid’ of the chalk writings they decided to go around campus with chalk and write the names of other candidates running for President. Instead of students being ‘afraid’ of seeing ‘Trump 2016’ they could be happy to walk around campus and see ‘Sanders 2016,’ “Cruz 2016,’ etc. The YAL chapter was able to create the incident into something everyone could get behind. At the end of the day we are talking about chalk that can be washed away with water, it isn’t like these students graffitied the buildings or anything.
If the school’s leadership was that upset about the incident they could have splashed water on the ‘scary’ words and addressed the situation in regards to defacing school property. Luckily creative students in YAL used their first amendment right and were able to change the conversation revolving around the ‘chalking’ into a positive one.”
This is the progress that must be seen and that must be highlighted in order to see change occur. Let the FAU administration know that you support this initiative by signing this petition here, and start initiatives like this at your own campus.
Student Government has a voice in sharing the opinions of the student body; take advantage of that resource and don’t let these efforts remain stagnant.