Wednesday, April 20, 2011

campus speech codes

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Campus Speech Codes

When our forefathers wrote the Declaration of Independence, they wrote it so that the will of the people could be heard. When colleges construct speech codes, the colleges take away the ability to have the will of the people heard. These people are students and still should be able to speak their minds clearly and freely. After all, college is a place where people get out on their own, start speaking for themselves, and figuring out who they are. Speech codes should not be used on campuses, since free speech allows students to form opinions, to exchange those opinions voluntarily, and to attempt to persuade others of their importance.

The major trend on college campuses today is the use of speech codes to stop vulgar, offensive, or unwanted comments directed towards a group or individual. Speech codes are used by college campuses to guide students on how to address other individuals, groups, or activities that have historically been more open to hate speech. The speech codes however, have silenced many individuals or groups who support ideas or beliefs that are different from the accepted beliefs of society today. Despite the good intentions of those who imposed the speech codes, the codes restrict students and of their freedom of thought and discussion, which is given to them by the first amendment.

The purpose of college speech codes is to protect individuals or groups from bad forms of speech. These speech codes clearly violate the first amendment, which states Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Although the first amendment refers to congress, it can be assumed that colleges also have to abide by these rules. While someone may make a racist or sexist comment directed toward a group or individual, their right to make such comments is upheld by the first amendment. John Howard ¾ who was the attorney in the Phi Kapa Sigma case ¾ said it best “…the first amendment exists for speech you don’t like. You don’t need the first amendment for speech you do like” (Qtd. in Frammolino 111). The adoption of speech codes, despite the claims of supporters, limits the right of individuals to speak as they wish.

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College campuses are ideally places where students can express free thought, discussion, and interaction. Students should not have to fear expressing any thought, opinion, or belief that enters their mind. With the emergence of enforced speech codes, however, students are forced to think twice before expressing their views. While supporters of speech codes proclaim their implementation will encourage a sense of the campus community, but, in reality, it smothers the views of one group and divides the community even further. By allowing a free-flow of thought, students who harbor anger toward certain groups or individuals might be able to vent their frustrations verbally, rather than physically. Venting any differences or frustrations verbally should, in all reality, decrease anger and sexual tension in the college community. By applying rigid speech codes, some students will keep their anger bottled up, which could possibly lead them to gangs or even militias as a way to vent their frustration. Simply, speech codes are separating the community even further then what supporters would believe. By silencing the community, the people or groups protected by speech codes are actually increasing the power they have over the community.

Supporters of speech codes on college campus bring up several points to support their point of view. First, that by setting up such speech codes, the codes will be protecting the students. In actuality, the codes are weakening the students, depriving them of a chance to speak their minds. Students, especially on the college level, should be exposed to all types of thoughts and opinions, on a variety of subjects. Students should have every opportunity they can to practice their composure during heated discussions, and learn what their actions and responses in these situations may cause. “It was once believed that the best way to separate a strong idea from a weak one was to encourage a clash of views” (Kurtz). By using speech codes that prevents discussion, students are not able to experience that diversity of opinion they will encounter outside of an academic setting. If diversity truly is a goal of all college campuses, and those who create the speech codes, they should be open to diversity of thought, opinion, and speech.

Another argument brought up by supporters say that insults against groups or individuals should be silenced with university action. While it is true that insult directed against individuals or groups should be condemned, the university administers should not step in to perform the condemnation. Peer pressure should step in, and condemn that individual or group speaking out. Supporters of speech codes should not take such negative view on the individual or group, thinking that they, the individual or group, not strong enough to stand up for themselves.

There is nothing to prevent those being insulted to shout back, or get up and leave the environment that makes them feel uncomfortable. By creating speech codes to silence such insults, university administrators are, in effect, fostering a new generation of victims, not leaders. The administrators are also denying students the right to their freedom of speech. This intern can cause students to, instead of verbally speaking out, to possibly taking physical action on the group or individual. This causes more harm then what verbal action would.

Kurtz, Stanley. “Free Speech and an Orthodoxy of Dissent.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 6 Oct. 001 B4.

Frammolino, Ralph. “Suit Forces U.C. Riverside to Rescind Fraternity Penalty.” Writing the World. Eds. Charles R Cooper and Susan MacDonald. New York Bedford/St. Martin’s, 000. 111-114

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