In the past few weeks I’ve been musing over the notion of free expression. It must have started a few weeks ago when there were so many demonstrations on campus. Here’s my question: How free are we to express ourselves on campus?
Could I march across the front field shouting “DOWN WITH PURPLE PANDAS”? Apparently, I can and so can you. There’s this thing called the “The Statement on Freedom of Speech”, that the university wrote to answer this kind of question. Its wording is clever and it says that as long as you are not inciting hate you can protest on campus.
I spoke with Jim Delaney, who works in the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students. They are the people who monitor demonstrations on campus among other things. Jim told me, “the university is committed to promoting free speech”. He also pointed out that there are a lot of opportunities to exercise your Freedom of Speech. And the university supports any demonstration that follows the guidelines set forth by the aforementioned Statement on Freedom of Speech and other provisions on the Governing Council’s website.
What if you have an adverse reaction to loud protests like I do? Is there anything we can do? Well, we could protest loud protests. We would be within our rights. A university is a unique place where for free speech is eagerly invited because it creates conversation and expands viewpoints. When we leave here and enter the workforce, protesting purple pandas in the office lunch room would most likely be frowned upon and would not aid in furthering your career.
So, if you have something to say, now is the time to say it. You will never again be so free to speak your mind as you are right now. Later in life you may be limited by time or by life but, right now by being a member of this university you have the freedom to voice whatever it is you want to say; within reason.
With that said, it’s a good idea to do some reading before taking to campus in protest. The governing council’s website has many policies online that pertain to demonstrating and freedom of speech. So make sure your protest is operating within University policies so you don’t get yourself into hot water. In particular check out the Policy on the Disruption of Meetings. This seems to be a recurring theme for campus protests and from my research it seems that few are aware of the penalties for disrupting a meeting of the governing council.
In my conversation with Jim Delaney, he pointed out that “if you do decide to demonstrate on campus remember that what you say will affect those around you”. I had not personally not given much consideration to this facet of free speech. Yet, it makes sense: If you are not willing to enjoy a backlash or a rebuttal to your statement, then you shouldn’t be demonstrating.
For example, if I want to rid our campus of pesky purple pandas eating all of our ornamental bamboo, then I should be aware that I’m in for a barrage of verbal lashings from animal activism groups and fellow students who like pandas because they’re cute and like purple because it matches their boots. There are definitely two sides to every debate so, if you want to express yourself be sure you’re ready to receive other’s “expression” too.
P.S… For the animal activists: If they existed I wouldn’t actually want to destroy purple pandas. Who doesn’t like pandas? You would have to be some kind of cyborg to not think a panda is cute. And I would bet money, that if it was the year 2075 and I had a personal cyborg to clean my house, that they too would think a panda is super cute!