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The first amendment is not about protecting sensitivity


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A university is supposed to be a free market place of opinion. It is a place to voice ideas, accumulate knowledge and openly discuss certain controversial issues in order to promote personal growth. It is essential college students continue to appropriately express their differing opinions with one another in order to spur intelligent discussions.

Unfortunately, certain universities are beginning to restrict free speech by implementing self-censorship and “free-speech zones.”

Free-speech zones are defined as  designated areas on campus where students can openly express ideas. Thus, implying students in any other area on campus should refrain from talking about controversial issues such as politics and religion.

Although these zones are implemented in order to make students more comfortable, they are ultimately regressive. As a college student, I am appalled certain universities think it constitutional and beneficial to limit what can be discussed on a public university.

Before I go on, I want to make clear I am not advocating for hate speech. Hate speech is very different from debating opinions openly on campus. As long as no one is being directly attacked or harmed, I think students should be mature enough to accept differing opinions—no matter how uncomfortable it may make them.

Recently, a controversial column concerning Greek life was published in the university newspaper. The column contained a reliable statistic regarding rape correlating with Greek members. The column did not target a specific fraternity nor did it target a specific individual. However, our next student body president, Connor Clegg, indirectly threatened to restrict publication and enforce prior restraint.

“I’ve been biting my tongue on this because I respect the free-press, however, no student should pay money to be unfairly, unduly, and inappropriately called a rapist by the school’s newspaper.” Clegg wrote on Facebook. “No one deserves to be unfairly called out because of a baseless claim with no grounding truth. When we are re-elected-this is gonna change. No more folks.”

I would normally admire Clegg for being so passionate and sticking up for his community, however, no one was directly named nor was a fraternity slandered. If Clegg really does have respect for “the free press” like he claims, then he wouldn’t threaten to limit it despite his differing opinion.

Through my media law and ethics class, I learned the first amendment is extremely hard to challenge but it can be done. The fact that our student body president thought he could threaten the first amendment because he didn’t agree with an opinion column is very upsetting.

When limitations are suggested regarding the first amendment, we are ultimately regressing. The press should not be limited as long as no one is slandered or threatened. Ideas need to be discussed, minds need to be challenged and universities need to continue to defend the first amendment.

Like Clegg, I didn’t agree with the column. However, instead of getting upset and lashing out via Facebook, I contacted the writer and asked why she felt so strongly about the issue of rape in the Greek community.

In a civil discussion, we presented our different opinions, and I gained a new understanding. Although it wasn’t easy to listen to a person I disagreed with, it did spur an intelligent discussion and provide personal growth.

-Rachael Shah is an electronic media junior