Speech lines must be drawn on campus

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Just because you have the fundamental right to say something doesn’t mean you should say it or that there won’t be consequences for doing so. 

After the president of the University of Oklahoma expelled two students who recently led a racist chant, he was praised by the community and students for his swift action. In a letter to the students, the president said, “Your leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant has created a hostile educational environment for others.”

Recently at Dixie State University, promotional posters for a club were not approved for circulation because the posters negatively depicted certain political figures, including President Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Che Guevara. The students are suing DSU for restricting their First Amendment right of free speech.

Instances like these reopen the complex debate of how much free speech should be permissible on a public university campus.

Dean of Students Del Beatty said that as much as he is a proponent for free thought, “We can’t just say whatever we want whenever we want. It would be chaos.”

Law allows the university to control the time, place and manner of free speech, Beatty said.

Words can cut deep, especially if intended to be derogatory.  

Beatty said he has received many complaints of students who have been offended by someone’s words on campus.

“It’s not illegal to offend someone,” Beatty said. “But there needs to be some lines drawn.”

Part of campus polices’ mission statement says: “We are committed to protecting the freedom of individuals and to maintaining a peaceful and safe environment by which to work and learn.”

Maintaining a peaceful and safe environment at DSU means certain kinds of speech will have to be limited on campus. Individual freedom needs to be balanced with what’s appropriate for everyone on campus.

Harassment is one form of speech that is not allowed on campus.

According to university policy, speech in any form cannot “single out any individual group(s) or entities in a derogatory manner.”

To remain fair for everyone, if the university allowed derogatory images of Obama, Bush and Guevara to be distributed around campus, they would also have to allow derogatory images of religious figures, the LGBT community, specific students and faculty members, and even races and ethnicities because it would all be protected under the First Amendment. 

There needs to be a hard line drawn so the campus can remain a safe and respectful learning environment for everyone.