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The Orion

College campuses must choose between safe spaces or free speech


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College campuses, once the epicenter of the marketplace of ideas, are now the crucible for free speech controversies in the nation.

To promote “safe spaces,” speech is being suppressed.

In 2015, a college journalist was reporting on a protest at the University of Missouri and a professor tried to have him forcibly removed. “I need some muscle over here,” said Assistant Professor of Mass Communications Melissa Click, as the student cited his First Amendment right to be there, according to a video of the incident published by CBS.

Other controversies occurred at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, DePaul University and Yale in the last two years. Both involved uproarious and occasionally violent reactions to “offensive” speech.

The CSU Free Speech Handbook states, “Speech that is otherwise protected may not be disallowed solely because the audience finds the message offensive, even where members of the audience react to the speech in a disruptive manner.”

The First Amendment means more than the ability to speak freely. It provides people the power to think and believe without fear of coercion.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right that separates representative democracies from dictatorships. It is a human right that is vital for constructive debate. And there is no place that this right should be more protected than at universities.

The Orion recently published the article “Debunking GSEC myths” which gained significant attention, becoming the most viewed article for the year. Although the article dealt with difficult and unpopular topics, the freedom to express opposing views should be looked at favorably, rather than with scorn.

It was discouraging to see public outcry over an unpopular opinion. Despite what many comments and letters to the editor said, no one should be fired, silenced or have harm done to them for their opinions. The right to think independently is the greatest asset that America provides, and opposing that freedom creates a real danger.

People do have the right to express their opinions because without having unpopular opinions that can be judged by the public, there would only be a monetized group of collective thinking. Having the public determine the views that they accept and refute is what constitutes a “marketplace of ideas.” Dictatorial power over the mind by laws or government entities eliminates individuality.

The ideas expressed within the article were unpopular, and most people believed it was written in an attempt to tear down GSEC and its members. In no section of the article was there a call to action to attack GSEC or its members. Disagreeing with certain statements or beliefs that an organization holds is not inciting violence or diminishing an organization’s efforts, it is pointing out specific ideas that a person might not believe in.

Universities are where ideas are debated and identities are formed. College is not and never should be a “safe space” where students are sheltered from opinions different from their own.

To end the semester, this editorial board of The Orion would like to leave students, staff, faculty and administration with the wisdom of Frederick Douglass, “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”

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12 Comments

12 Responses to “College campuses must choose between safe spaces or free speech”

  1. Gillian R on May 17th, 2017 3:27 am

    So is responding negatively to hate speech not considered free speech? Im pretty sure free speech doesnt mean everyone has to listen quietly ro whatever opinion someone has. Nor does it mean you have to give a platform to inflamatory and low quality journalism. Stop trying to hide behind free speech, the article is a reflection of the paper it was published in and the paper’s own political views. You dont get to act like a neutral party.

    [Reply]

    Lorenzo Reply:

    You do know that The Orion releases left leaning articles 95% of the time right? Even Roberto has written some anti-trump pieces.

    [Reply]

  2. Mikaela Weidman on May 17th, 2017 3:56 am

    Some of my favorite quotes “Other controversies occurred at UC Berkeley and Yale in the last year. Both involved uproarious and occasionally violent reactions to “offensive” speech.” You mean students who rejected and refused to have white supremacists and nazis come speak at their campus? Newsflash: the opinion of a racist/sexist/homophobe will never matter more than the safety of a student run organization to protect poc, queer, trans and women identifying students. Ya’ll out here trying to act like we’re crazy for wanting you to get rid of the “free speech” aka hate speech from racists/sexists/homophobes in our school newspaper.
    Another quote from this trash paper “College is not and never should be a “safe space” where students are sheltered from opinions different from their own.” I am so glad to know that my campus does not give a damn about hate speech being given or the affect it has on it’s students. This is a joke. Do better the Orion. Do better Chico.

    [Reply]

    Chase Beauregard Reply:

    I think the main flaw in your argument is that you seem to equate differing opinions with violence. Your comment addressed neither whether or not some protesters’ use of violence was justified (it wasn’t), nor how words and opinions compromise the physical safety of “poc, queer, trans and women identifying students” (they don’t).

    You think that your campus “doesn’t give a damn about hate speech” because of…an op-ed piece? You know the writers of the Orion don’t set the school’s policy agenda right? Also perhaps you missed the email from our college’s president last week that addressed the controversial piece about GSEC, basically throwing its writer under the bus (“he does not reflect our university’s values”).

    [Reply]

    Radhika Reply:

    Agreed! Well said

    [Reply]

  3. Lana SwansononBravo on May 17th, 2017 4:21 am

    BRAVO !!!

    [Reply]

  4. Marianne on May 17th, 2017 8:04 am

    The problem with your argument, and the article in general, is that it was not presented as an opinion. It asserted what it said as fact. The existence of rape culture is not up for debate, it exists. The impact it has on campus and daily life as observed by the author IS up for debate. The article ‘s content was a problem, but the issue was not with that it was with the disrespectful and inappropriate way it was presented. It was not an opinion article: it was hate speech.

    I applaud this paper for it’s intentions of presenting all sides of an argument for the sake of discussion. However, if that is the goal, your paper needs to take more care with the writing to ensure that the argument presented in any given opinion article will encourage actual conversation. Even without validating GSEC in any way, you could have written the article to spark proactive conversation, rather than the backlash you endured.

    [Reply]

  5. Veronika Zelny on May 17th, 2017 10:18 am

    I agree that free speech and safe spaces are two aspects to social issues that can cause controversey, but that doesn’t mean they cannot coexist. In the Orion GSEC article the issue wasn’t that they were stating an unpopular opinion, but for multiple reasons beyond that. For one, they misquoted the 1 in 5 women statistic. That original statistic refers to women by the time they complete college, not just in the college years which means essentially by the time a woman reaches her early 20’s 1 in 5 would have experienced sexual assault. Secondly the way the article continuously referred to the black and Latino communities as “lacking” while failing to analyze the issues why these groups would be “lacking” was frankly insensitive and irresponsible. The original Orion GSEC article does have every right to state their opinion however by misquoting evidence and failing to further analyze the underlying conflicts of the groups the article refers to it’s no wonder the groups talked about were offended. They can state their opinion, they just did it poorly

    [Reply]

  6. PD on May 17th, 2017 2:41 pm

    Perhaps no one should be fired for their opinions, but a newspaper should not publish content that misrepresents their sources and is factually incorrect. This was not a letter to the editor (not expected to be held to a journalist standard), a facebook post, or standing in the middle of a campus speaking your opinion.

    A newspaper has a duty to publish things that are factually correct.

    The Justice department study referenced in the “Debunking GSEC myths” says right in his own source, on page 2, that it is targeting something different than what GSEC targeted, yet it was presented as a refute.

    This was not the only place in that opinion that was a misrepresentation of source content.

    Newspapers have editors for a reason- newspapers have a duty to credibility, that other “free speech” concerns, such as a blog, or speaking in the free speech area, or self published material do not.

    If my opinion is gravity doesn’t exist, I don’t deserve to have that published in the newspaper as a legitimate journalist.

    If I am determined to have my contributions to a newspaper be factually incorrect, I should be fired.

    This firing is not because I hold that opinion, but because I’m an irresponsible journalist.

    I would either need to find a way to factually argue my case, or focus on using my journalism only for subjects where I can be factually correct, keeping my unsupported opinions for my personal, non-work related methods of dispersing said opinion.

    To conflate a complaint about inaccurate content published in a newspaper to an infringement on constitutional free speech is laughable. That isn’t what is happening here.

    No one attempted to get him fired because of what he posted as his opinion somewhere personal.

    They tried to get him fired because bad journalist. He’s allowing his opinions to overrule what is factually correct in his journalism.

    This is different from being penalized for holding an opinion.

    [Reply]

  7. Alyssa on May 17th, 2017 3:10 pm

    I really hope you lose support, because you’ve lost mine. How dare you try and act as a neutral party when editors said not to post that disgusting article. Just apologize for being ridiculous.

    [Reply]

  8. Generation Z on May 17th, 2017 6:40 pm

    Generation Z? Is that because you will be the last generation because all of your skin is so thin? When you all enter the real world and don’t get everything you want, you’ll figure it out.

    [Reply]

  9. Generation X on May 17th, 2017 6:42 pm

    Generation Z? Is that because you will be the last generation because all of your skin is so thin? When you all enter the real world and don’t get everything you want, you’ll figure it out.

    [Reply]

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College campuses must choose between safe spaces or free speech