Letter to the Editor: Free speech at USC must not be conditional


I had the good fortune to attend the “Brave Spaces” panel discussion that was put on by the School of Social Work on Thursday. I have been paying close attention to free speech issues since I was a student at the School of Social Work. It is clear that this is a very serious topic on campuses, and I felt that the panel had a very measured discussion that made me feel proud to be a Trojan.

During the presidential campaign and after it has been everywhere apparent that there are lines being drawn in the cultural sand. At times it seems as though our ability to have debate and discuss the difficult issues that face us is like a lexical wall being erected faster than you can say “TRUMP,” or “TRIGGERED.”

I spent the final months of the election in India and the country I returned to was more like “Bizarro America” than the familiar world I inhabited (especially on social media!). I feel as though all my relations and USC have been going through spasms of rejection and acceptance.

One name that came up during the panel was Milo Yiannopoulos. At this time he has been recognized as persona non grata by virtually everyone with the exception of a small pocket of the alt-right.

In Fall 2015, when Trump was more amusement than a serious political figure, Yiannopoulos spoke to the USC College Republicans in a room smaller than the one that held the Free Speech panel.

At the time, Bahar Mustafa, an administrator at a British university, had caused a stir because she had prevented white male students from attending a campus event. I had the opportunity to ask Yiannopoulos for his opinion on the matter.

His response: “While I don’t believe in anything Bahar Mustafa thinks, I support her right to say whatever she wants because that is what it means to live in a liberal democracy.”

Both his talk and the Brave Spaces discussion were pro-free speech. This is something that makes me feel positively toward USC in general. I went to the Brave Spaces discussion wanting an answer to where USC stands regarding this issue and I felt like the speakers by and large had good, pro-free speech answers. I think this is a very big topic that is important and it is in a state of evolution. I hope that USC stays strong and maintains an open dialogue. USC students and faculty continue to make our community one of intellectual diversity and positive debate.

Nils de Mol van Otterloo

Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, Class of 2015

  • Michael

    USC remembered the importance of free speech after Chicago University got a massive grant for their free speech advocacy. I am teary-eyed.