Free speech should counter free speech

Last week, an Undergraduate Student Government Senator was disciplined in part because he helped bring a conservative writer to campus in his capacity as president of the USC College Republicans. The same week, the same group brought another conservative author to campus, sparking protests and a column in the Daily Trojan critical of the author’s rhetoric and his presence on campus.

Free speech on college campuses has been a significant part of the national conversation this school year. It has to be: It’s the logical evolution of national campus movements to increase inclusivity and foster diversity, movements which concern themselves with speech, especially hate speech, on campus. The discussion has found its way to this campus as well, filling the pages of this newspaper and other publications with arguments from all sides. Speech should not be restricted on this campus. This applies not only to speakers, but also to students and the University. Just as the University should wield its right to condemn — but not ban — speakers when appropriate, students’ right to peacefully protest should be fought for and protected to the same extent that controversial rhetoric is.

Though free speech is vital for a healthy and vibrant democracy, Trojans should also understand that hate speech — defined by the American Bar Association as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits” — comes with a cost. Speech designed to degrade people based on nothing more than their identities is wrong. Hate speech does not add to discourse and debate, which should be opportunities to compare and contrast differing viewpoints. Hate speech only serves to divide our communities when we should be uniting to find solutions to complex problems.

However, though hate speech is unbecoming of every member of the Trojan Family, it does not mean that USC should ban certain speakers from campus. USC is a private institution, and therefore not bound by the First Amendment in the same manner as public universities, but the University understands the value of free expression and unfettered exchange of ideas. All speakers, no matter how hateful, divisive or deplorable, should be permitted to safely present on campus, should any student group invite them for an event.

That being said, students are also well within their rights to peacefully protest speakers who do not represent their views.  The presence of DPS at the student protest outside the talk by David Horowitz did not send the message that the University supported the rights of student protest — rather, it showed students that the University was somehow worried about possible safety concerns from a peaceful protest of less than 10 college students. The University should take these controversies among students as an opportunity to make the rights of students to protest more clear.

As outlined in the SCampus policies regarding free expression and dissent, “lawful and peaceful demonstration as an expression of favor or dissent will be permitted and protected,” unless the protest becomes disruptive to university operations, incites violence or attempts to deny others of their right to peacefully express their ideas.

The policy outlines that their list of freedom of expression protections is “expected to evolve, based on experience and changes in the law.” The policies outlined to protect freedom of speech are admittedly fluid and thus, students should continue conversations about free speech on campus.  The only way to make sure the right to speech and peaceful assembly is protected is to actively engage in it.

USC as an institution should absolutely condemn those viewpoints that offend our common values as Trojans. There is nothing wrong with saying, “We don’t like what you represent” to the people that seek to degrade and divide us. And the University should use past and present controversy over speakers as an opportunity to condemn speech that endangers the well-being of students.

Free speech should only be countered with free speech. This University should continue to take a stand against intolerance, as it already does in our SCampus policies, support of academic programs and centers and especially in public statements. When it comes to free speech on campus, this means condemning hate speech  when it does not uphold the values of the Trojan family.

Daily Trojan Spring 2016 Editorial Board