ALESTLE VIEW: Even free speech has its downsides

A recent executive order signed by President Donald Trump prohibits universities who block free speech on campus from receiving certain types of federal funding, according to the Washington Post.

When he signed the order, Trump was joined by over 100 college students who said their beliefs were suppressed on their campuses.

On the surface, the order seems like a good idea. We at The Alestle encourage diversity of thought and the protection of free speech, and as journalists, the very foundation of our field relies on our ability to say and print the truth. So, we’ll give the protection of free speech a warm welcome, right?

Every year, we host the First Amendment Free Food Festival on campus, where we challenge students to temporarily give up their First Amendment rights to see a simulation of a world without the freedoms of speech, religion and press.

The result is chaos — students are harassed with government propaganda instead of getting information from credible news outlets, protesters are forcefully removed from the premises and individuality is completely prohibited. At least it’s all pretend and participants get a slice of pizza out of it.

The existence of free speech on campus has been challenged in real life, too. Last year, the College Republicans sued the university over speech zones on campus, which they alleged limited students’ abilities to organize demonstrations on campus. The lawsuit was settled in favor of the student organization and the university changed the speech zone policy on campus.

This could point to the conclusion that executive orders like this one are necessary on campus — if SIUE hadn’t been doing everything it could have been to protect free speech on campus, other universities may not be as well.  

However, it’s not necessarily as simple as one might think.

We all want to encourage a world where we can have more open dialogues to hopefully get to the bottom of social and political divides we face in the U.S. However, one aspect of the executive order makes us nervous. It seemingly forces universities to accept all types of free speech on campus — including derogatory speech from white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other spewers of hate speech. Diversity of thought is critical, even if we don’t agree with what the other person is saying.

Of course, speech that makes threats toward groups based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion is in many cases illegal, and would not be protected by the order. However, diversity of thought should still not be expanded to include speech by extremists who would make marginalized populations on campus feel even more unwelcome.

Marginalized groups already face barriers to receiving education. Black and Hispanic people still are less likely to graduate college than their white non-Hispanic peers according to the Pew Research Center. These groups do not need the additional stress of attacks on their unchangeable identities getting in the way of their education.

Blatant racism and xenophobia from extremist ideologies like white nationalism is hurting — hate crimes increased 17 percent between 2016 and 2017 according to The New York Times, and the recent mass shootings in two New Zealand mosques only show this hate is spreading.

Because of our commitment to free speech and other First Amendment rights, we cannot afford to give hate speech momentum by offering it a platform on our campus or on any other campus across America.

Don’t abuse the right to free speech. While it’s something everybody should have, it’s not right to use it to make others feel alienated and unsafe.


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