Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Free Speech on Campus and Erwin Chemerinsky

Taylor Berry

Taylor Berry

Taylor Berry

“We’re not fighting for protection of things we like but fighting to protect the speech we detest because that’s the only way to protect free speech”

This was one of the many anecdotes that stayed with me after hearing Erwin Chemerinsky speak in light of the recent anonymous poster that was displayed earlier this quarter. Chemerinsky illustrates that students in public universities and high schools have the freedom of expression protected under the First Amendment but that doesn’t apply to private institutions. However, California has a provision that prevents private from obstructing individuals’ freedom of expression. While highlighting this idea of “Academic Freedom”, it can be argued that when people voice their opinions (controversial or not) there has to be an environment that is safe for both popular and unpopular ideas to be discussed. Chemerinsky emphasized an issue that we in society are grappling with: How to distinguish the difference between hate speech and free speech because both fall under the category of being an expression of an idea. Subsequently, to censor words is a form of censoring ideas which is a bigger threat to our community.

Chemerinsky took an approach that typically can be overlooked when people hear opinions that are extremely different from their own personal views. The point is we as a community have to create a safe space for all opinions to be heard. We can only hope that those opinions ranging from extreme and radical views to those that are more mainstream are able to provide a solid argument to justify their stance. What we as a community must not allow is for a safe space to be created that only acknowledges one viewpoint or silences the controversial views because people may feel uncomfortable.

I believe that this uncomfortability can lead to growth and hopefully some insight into the other side that will spark a discussion. Through these discussions maybe some common ground can be found. However, I stress the importance of not only having an opinion but understanding the argument for it so that if asked to further elaborate on an opinion, there is some substance behind it. Another issue that has to be acknowledged is this idea that a safe space needs to be available to all students. If college is supposed to be a place to display one’s Academic Freedom, then it’s crucial that this environment exists and the opinions of a few aren’t overshadowed by any majority.

So in light of the poster that was put up, there are many ways to address it in the SCU community. As a community, the administration and students displayed their resistance to the poster being displayed as was their right. Maybe our next steps as a community could take a play call from the Chemerinsky handbook and as a community strive to further develop our safe space (campus). Hopefully, by striving to create a safe space for discussions to take place, it can allow members of our community to have discussions with one another and further our growth as individuals. If a collective effort is placed on this, then our community can continue to build together as we take advantage of the expression of ideas and our own academic freedom.

No one voice should be silenced no matter how controversial. Instead, all voices should be heard followed by heartfelt discussions minus the shouting so that people can hear all sides and decide for themselves which side is more tailored to their thoughts.

Feb 8, 2018

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