As a chapter chair of College Republicans, I have never been more alarmed by the blatant attack on our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech than I am at the present.
Over the past decade (and particularly the past year), universities across the country have left conservative-leaning students and faculty reeling over their treatment of seemingly benign ideas. Organizations like Campus Reform were forced into existence as a response to faculty and administration officials on various campuses to expose behavior that was intended to stifle conservative views. While student groups like College Republicans and Turning Point USA are attempting to reverse the dangerous course that many of these campuses are set on, the have a long way to go before higher-education can be taken seriously again.
While stories about liberal campuses enforcing liberal policies and in some cases disenfranchising their conservative students go back many years, it appears that incidents have spiked over the past year in particular. It doesn’t take much for many of us to recall the riots in Berkeley, California over Milo Yiannopoulos and the violence that was caused. However, the nonsense continues heavily in California, where a case in which conservative students at Orange Coast College allege that their college hired an investigator to “harass” them is only one of many in the state.
However, it’s clear that the problem isn’t just California, it’s everywhere. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has logged hundreds of cases across the nation, including ones in Louisiana and Texas. The organization has handled cases at LSU, Texas A&M – San Antonio, TCU, Texas Tech, and others over cases regarding free speech and other topics. As recently as yesterday, in a case that has not been noted by FIRE but rather by media outlets, a student government diversity chair from the University of Central Florida declared on social media that “Trump supporters are not welcome on our campus.” These cases are not isolated; they are rampant throughout the United States.
Today, that very same sort of case came to Southern Methodist University in the worst sort of way. Last week, the SMU chapter of Young Americans for Freedom submitted a request in order to place 2,977 flags in memory of the victims of the September 11th attacks. Not only was their request denied by SMU administration, but the administration included in its response letter that “The University also respects the right of all members of the community to avoid messages that are triggering, harmful, or harassing.” The SMU College Republicans, along with SMU College Democrats, Turning Point USA at SMU, Mustangs for Life, SMU Feminist Equality Movement, and SMU Young Americans for Freedom all responded with a fierce bipartisan rebuke of the administration’s decision.
“A flag memorial to honor those who lost their lives in the events of 9/11, or displays promoting the education and discussion of the pro-life, pro-choice movements among SMU students must not be viewed as attacks on others. In choosing to view these displays as such, SMU is deviating from its call as a center of higher learning. Its’ mission is to be a place where ideas are challenged and intellect thrives, not a place to hide or silence alternative points of view,” reads the letter from the student groups to the SMU president. The letter is absolutely correct: inhibition of free speech, no matter which side of the spectrum, no matter how much you individually disagree with it, and no matter how stupid it may seem to you, is not good for a free society. It’s insulting to the memory of the 2,977 victims of 9/11 to insinuate that a memorial to them would be “triggering,” and it’s even more disconcerting the standard that this policy would set. Colleges and universities will undoubtedly produce our nation’s next set of leaders, conservative or liberal. By teaching these students that it’s okay to void another person’s opinion simply because it offends you in some way isn’t diverse, and it’s intellectually bankrupt. In fact, it’s degrading the very purpose of our Constitution. It teaches potential future leaders that it’s okay to take away the rights of someone due to their opinions.
Luckily for us, it appears that the student body at Southern Methodist University at least understands that free speech is something to be valued. Let’s hope that message is spread to the rest our campuses as well.