Free Speech on College Campuses

By Kaitlyn Benacquisto
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On Wednesday, the Texas Senate convened to discuss free speech. Their purpose was to identify any restrictions on freedom of speech and other first amendment rights, specifically on Texas campuses. Those who were a part of the panels, or who gave public testimonies, were encouraged to recommend policy changes that would enhance the free speech environment on campus.

The hearing was held at our very own Texas State University, seemingly fitting after the controversy that has been had here regarding free speech. In November, student Rudy Martinez had a controversial column posted in The University Star, which was followed with backlash from Texas State University and his peers. Martinez, along with other staff from The University Star, received hate and death threats. This incident sparked conversation regarding First Amendment rights and protections.

President of Texas State Denise Trauth spoke first. She emphasized that despite differing viewpoints, freedom of speech cannot be curtailed. Thus, speech cannot be censored for its content, but can be censored for the time, place and manner.

“We live in a divided country. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that our campus is divided,” said Trauth.

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Denise Trauth, amongst others, on Panel One. Photo by David West.

Trauth also brought up the rules on materials being distributed, such as flyers, in light of recent events on campus. She said that anything is allowed to be passed out outside of buildings. However, there are rules about posting posters and flyers on buildings and designated boards. There are content and time restrictions that must be respected. Free speech zones were also frequently discussed by Trauth and others.

“If we have free speech zones, that implies that you don’t have it everywhere else,” said one of the Senators.

Trauth said the last designated free speech zone was rid of five to seven years ago. The general consensus from the panels was that free speech zones defeated the purpose of free speech.

Speakers included representatives from University of Texas, Texas Tech, Southern Methodist University, Texas Southern University, Texas A&M and several others not associated with college campuses. There was a total of four panels before public testimonies began.

In the public testimonies, which were ironically limited to two minutes, Democratic candidate for House District 45 Erin Zwiener spoke.

“I’m a little frustrated with most of the content of the testimony today, because I feel like we’re only having half of the conversation,” said Zwiener. “And the half of the conversation we’re missing is this question about how do we deal with an increase of hate speech on university campuses.”

She discussed her own experiences in college that involved hate speech and how it affected her. What Erin talked about was a common theme among a lot of the public testimonies: they wanted to discuss where hate speeches place was among free speech.

If you have any recommended policy changes that will help protect your First Amendment rights on campus, you are encouraged to contact your senator. To find out who represents you, visit www.senate.texas.gov.

Featured image by David West.

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