Editors comment on the presence of free speech on campus

Photo courtesy of breitbart.com

By Isabel Paris || Layout Assistant and Ruby Van Dyk || Editor-In-Chief

This past Thursday, The Black Pyramid Senior Honors Society hosted another debate in their series of debates on campus, titled “Is Free Speech Threatened on College Campuses?” The debate was between Dean Susan Richter of New College House and Don Bryan Stinchfield of Brooks College House. Richter, an Environmental Science Professor, argued that free speech is not threatened on college campuses, while Stinchfield, a Business Organization and Societies Professor, argued that free speech is threatened.

   The debate was structured with a set of six questions. Each debater had 2-5 minutes of arguing their side. The questions varied from discussing the overall topic of the debate to the protest tree to specific groups feeling included in their expression of their opinions. In the beginning, audience members were given a clicker to vote whether free speech is or is not threatened on our campus. 52% of people believed that free speech is threatened while 48% of people believed it is not. These close numbers had the debaters in prime form to sway the audience towards their argument.

One of the questions posed was the opportunity for a student to wear a political hat. Do students feel comfortable wearing a Trump or Antifa hat without feeling societal pressure to take it off? Richter argued that students should and do feel okay with wearing such hats and then showed a picture of a student wearing a white Trump hat. The fault with this picture, however, is that while it is a Trump hat, it is not the Trump hat. If the student felt truly safe why not wear the classic and more well-known red hat. While this may seem like a small observation, how is this an example of being comfortable promoting polarizing political views? The student wasn’t even wearing true gear from the campaign.

Stinchfield disagreed, arguing that students do not feel comfortable wearing certain hats around campus. This is more realistic as having noticed what people wear on campus, no one is ever seen wearing such hats. This could be contributed to those who simply do not own any accouterments of that kind or do not care, but this also can point those who perhaps own such gear but are too afraid or self-conscious to do so. Stinchfield ended his argument by declaring that if students “cannot wear that kind of hat on a college campus and feel comfortable then where will they?”

Don Stinchfield argued that speakers invited to campus’ across the country that have then been disinvited have increased significantly over the last 10 years. Stinchfield stated that the problem rests partially in the hands of college administrations. Although this may be true at some institutions, it does not seem to be the case at F&M. The reason why the majority of common hour speakers are non-controversial is not a direct fault of administrative decisions, but more so because of a lack of controversially proposed speakers by students. Dean Richter argued that If students were to band together and advocate for a controversial speaker, it would most likely be approved for common hour.

Although free speech is not formally threatened by college policy and students are technically able to propose whoever they’d like for a common hour, it faces dangerous cultural threats on campus. This discrepancy is something that Dean Richter failed to recognize. Encouraging students to speak their minds, she emphasized that students would always have the support of the college behind them. However, in doing so, she failed to acknowledge that what most often restricts free speech is the culture of homogeneity of thought, perpetuated by students. This culture is not something that can be overcome as easily as Dean Richter seemed to think it could.

One of the questions asked by an audience member questioned whether or not Flemming Rose, a controversial cartoonist, had been accepted on campus in a fair way when he spoke at F&M two years ago. Rose is a Danish cartoonist who drew controversy over cartoons he’d illustrated of the Prophet Muhammad. Both Dean Richter and Don Stinchfield answered that they believed he had been. This being said, Stinchfield pointed out the fact that speakers like Flemming Rose are hardly ever invited to campus, and that this was a problem. Inviting a controversial speaker on campus every two years is not enough to support a culture of free speech.

While this question did prove that controversial speakers have not spoken as often as others during common hour, this should not sway anyone from believing that F&M isn’t ahead of most colleges. Most colleges in this area and of similar caliber to F&M are not as likely to have brought Flemming Rose or Bassam Eid to their campuses. The administration is open to different speakers that are proposed it just so happens that not many controversial speakers are proposed. The College Reporter itself gives a voice to the community as it stands outside of F&M’s jurisdiction. This freedom allows both the writers and staff but also the campus population to feel heard. This expression has been seen through many different articles that have been published whether regarding party security, sexual assault, or offensive speakers that have come to this campus. Even this event is another example as to the self-awareness that our campus has in terms of free speech and student involvement. While F&M does offer a few ways to make the individual feel heard and comfortable, there still remains a stigma around the freedom of expression in open society and not behind different forums or institutions.

As the debate was coming to a close, it seemed that both Richter and Stinchfield’s arguments began to converge. Both would agree to the frustration and difficulty of challenging systemic norms like F&M’s lack of support for students’ free speech rights. Richter alluded to the difficulty of conservatives on this campus without explicitly stating so when she didn’t truly answer the question but expressed her belief in working together with people of other viewpoints. Stinchfield described how free speech has been vocalized through different outlets but it is still limited in terms of college campus society.

It seems evident that F&M is ahead of many other institutions in the way it handles free speech, but this does not mean reactions to the controversial speakers that have been brought on campus have been overall in favor of free speech, take Jeffrey Lord for example. But this does not excuse the fact that there does seem to be a culture at F&M where students are not allowed to speak their minds freely on some issues. This is something that needs to be changed. One of the most valuable things that can be gained through a liberal arts education is the promotion of differing ideas. Something that F&M brings to the table is that it has students that differ in beliefs. It is up to the students of F&M to take advantage of these differences  not discourage them.

Sophomore Isabel Paris is a Layout Assistant, her email is iparis@fandm.edu

Sophomore Ruby Van Dyk is Editor-In-Chief, her email is rvandyk@fandm.edu

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