From the pepper spraying cops of the University of California, Davis, to the university police harassment of students as punishment for handing out the constitution at Southern Oregon University, university administrations have been using repressive tactics to silence student protests across the country. The most troubling tactics are the implementation of so-called “free speech zones” and other university policies which aim to restrict our First Amendment rights.
These strategies are an attempt to make protest cumbersome and difficult for students. In the case of SOU, students were required to jump through a laundry list of administrative hoops in order to pass out the constitution. Students were required to organize as an official campus group and fill out a campus-approved letter of intent. These regulations are clearly an attempt to limit collective action.
The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and assembly in the public sphere. Since a public university falls into this public sphere, students should be able to express their rights without hindrance. This is no longer the case. Restrictive policies are becoming the norm. The fact that universities not only discourage these actions, but actively disrupt the protest process betrays a blatant disregard for the intended purpose of a university: to broaden the intellectual horizons of students and faculty.
Advocates for such policies argue full access to speech and the right to assembly might leave students bombarded with questionable or controversial material. Allowing certain impediments to freedom of speech is a slippery slope. You cannot invalidate certain types of speech simply because they offend others. As long as said speech or assembly does not physically impede peoples’ daily lives or create a dangerous situation, students should be free to spout any opinion they wish.
Most students do not have the money to instigate change or air grievances through economic avenues. For the most part, students lack connections to those in positions of power. Protest is one of the few ways that young adults in college can express their concerns. By limiting freedom of expression on campus, administrators effectively silence any self-determination that the student body possesses. Although students at Binghamton University enjoy freedom of speech and assembly with few restrictions, we should not forget that many others students are denied these rights across the country. Over time, their administrations made sweeping changes, without student input, to prevent protesting and other forms of “unruly” behavior. As BU students, we should remain vigilant in protecting our natural rights, or else a familiar fate might befall our own school.