Post Classifieds

Is Freedom of Speech Still Free?

By Alexander Lewis, Staff Writer
On November 2, 2016

The current political climate brings to mind the great war being waged in our nation`s university system: free speech versus political correctness. The College was one such battleground this past Oct. 19. When I came outside, I was greeted with a flurry of activity, poster boards and a crowd I did not expect. The poster boards had freedom of speech written on them, and students were allowed to write whatever they wanted on them. A young man named Timothy Petarra, who plans on running for Congress in Nevada in 2018, was there, holding a demonstration. When I asked him what it was all about, he said, “This is a free speech event. We're promoting free speech in general, about our First Amendment rights. We're [also] doing a vote on what people think they feel is a reasonable means to defend themselves on campus.” When I asked him if this was for a student club at The College, he added, “We're recruiting for clubs on campus. They're starting today. One is going to be the Muslims for Political Action, to get their side of story. One is LGBTQ for political action. We do free speech, free market groups, civil liberties type group.” He will also be hosting a trip to Philadelphia on Nov. 12-13 on how to organize a campus organization. He also told me that he was a veteran, doing this for those of his brothers that fell while defending our freedoms. He said he is trying to get millennials involved and is concerned about our national debt, mentioning “taxation without representation.” It did not take long for campus police to get there. Apparently someone called them, finding the writing on the poster boards offensive. When asked for clarification, Mr. Petarra told them that: “They come up and get to write whatever they want. I write free speech on the wall, they walk up put whatever [on them] and they walk away.” The Officer replied with a query, “Did you talk to anybody in Student Activities? We do have rules about posters. It has to be approved.” Mr. Petarra replied that he was practicing his civil liberties and his freedom of speech. The Officer asked if he went to get a copy of the policy, whether Mr. Petarra would stand there and read it with him, to which Mr. Petarra agreed. The Officer added that, “For now, any sign that has vulgarity on it, it has to be pulled down.” Mr. Petarra said, “You're filtering free speech. You don't think it's appropriate.” The Officer agreed, stating that there are children on campus (daycare is from 7:30am-6pm). Mr. Petarra retorted, “You`re censoring what they're writing is exactly why I did it.”
Some students agreed with Mr. Petarra, stating that it was not fair and saying that, “Other people wrote. He can't stop what other people are saying. People are vulgar.” Others agreed that it was not his fault, criticizing campus security, “It's so wrong. We all have our freedom of speech.” Unfortunately, I had to go to class at this point, but The College's Director of Marketing Communications, Thomas Peterson, reached out to me, and stated that “Campus Police, noting that he did not have prior approval to conduct the demonstration, asked him to leave. Officers showed him the Board policy regarding demonstrations, and he did then end the demonstration and leave the campus. There were no arrests or other action.” While freedom of speech is extremely important, sometimes political correctness can hurt it.

    Timothy may be part of a growing group of people who think that political correctness is stifling expression and individual rights. They argue that this generation wants to be coddled, to have a “safe space” from harmful speech, and won't be ready to face the real world. The true goal of college is to get you ready for that world, which is not filled with perfect human beings. By shutting down, suing, or getting anyone who tries to start a conversation over the issue fired, the open sharing of ideas is stopped before it starts. Several of these high-profile cases have resulted in colleges silencing speech through speech codes and free speech zones. These are usually embedded in college anti-harassment policies. The issue is the fact that these policies are either too broad or too vague. The issue with the free speech zones is that they are usually only a couple of spots on a campus. Some, like Modesto Junior College in California prohibited a student from handing out copies of the United States Constitution on the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. He was told to do it in the “free speech zone”, but then told he would have to wait an entire month. Yale was put in the spotlight, when video-maker, Ami Horowitz, managed to collect 50 signatures from students in support of appealing the First Amendment. Most of these policies have been getting struck down in court, but these are extreme examples.

    On the other end of the spectrum we have to look at is the reason for political correctness. Some people might be using this battle to push their agenda, marginalizing the positives of harassment policies. Those fighting for their rights to be heard, whether it's over people wearing blackface on Halloween, telling rape victims that they're “coddled,” feminists criticizing rape jokes or cultural appropriation. This is beneficial to those minorities who are still fighting this war, even in this modern era. The majority does not enjoy having their status quo shaken up and assumes this is an assault on their free speech. This not an assault, it is simply the gradual evolution of societal values that do not always mesh with history or older generations. Radical reactions are used to justify the “over-sensitized,” not mentioning the hate and oppression they may have felt for years that built up to that moment. The bias of those who are upset that their offensive jokes and stereotypes are offensive makes them blind to the perspectives of others. Let's take another look at what happened Wednesday from the administration's view. The posting rules state that “Materials must not be obscene or defamatory and must not violate College policy or federal, state, or local laws. Campus groups need prior approval for posters or postings in compliance with the branding guidelines and this procedure. Posters or flyers may not be placed on the interior or exterior walls, floors, doors, windows, sidewalks, or on campus grounds.” If we dig a little deeper and find the actual Demonstration policy, we see that: “Any use of the College campus for demonstrations requires advance approval of The College.
If The College police have been asked to deal with the person or persons creating a nonviolent disturbance, they will ask the person or persons to stop the disruptive behavior prior to asking that the person or persons to leave the event or take any other action.” Right away, we see why, even if no one called security, Mr. Petarra would've still been slightly erroneous in how he chose to spread his message. He was not with a campus group, had no prior approval and had his posters propped up, resting on the sidewalk. If we see what campus harassment policy states we find that: “Harassment, intimidation or bullying is defined as any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability, or by any other distinguishing characteristic, that takes place on the property of The College or at any function sponsored by the College that substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the institution or the rights of other students’ and that: a reasonable person should know, under the circumstances, will have the effect of physically or emotionally harming a student or damaging the student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm to his person or damage to his property; has the effect of insulting or demeaning any student or group of students in such a way as to cause disruption in, or interference with, the orderly operation of The College; or

creates a hostile educational environment for the student at The College; or infringes on the rights of the student at the College by interfering with a student’s education or by severely or pervasively causing physical or emotional harm to the student.” Like other policies that prevent harassment it is pretty common. But this policy may be one of the ones that might be a little too vague in their wording, stating that anything that emotionally harms a student can be identified as harassment. I think this would need to be explained a little bit better for everyone's benefit. So what was it that was so offensive on these boards? Several political references, and hateful swear words, but also a range of different and conflicting opinions gathered together. Yet there are those who find these words offensive. While I believe that freedom of speech is important in our colleges, I also believe that harassment is not. So how do we draw the fine line between the two? I believe the key here is compromise. As a student told me at the demonstration, “Do it in a proper way. There's going to be people that disagree with you.  There's things that you and me don't like that people still do.” How could have Mr. Petarra done this in a proper way? He could have gotten approval from Student Activities. He also could have compromised with the Officers instead of digging in his heels. A simple black box only around the cuss words would have been enough. Some might feel that this would be compromising his values, morals, and the lives of his fallen brothers, but at the same time we must look at the perspectives of those who are affected by the issues that are written on the boards. Some may have been traumatized, some may never swear. Compromising is another word for being politeness. I think we could all use a little bit of that in our world. By showing concern for your fellow human beings you do not give up your values, you instead gain their respect.

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