Debating Free Speech on College Campuses

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The debate over free speech versus hate speech on college campuses has been going on for years. It was reignited recently in the wake of campus visits by right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos of Breitbart News, which sparked protests and a cancellation of his speech at UC Berkeley.

We asked editors of 20 college newspapers from around the country to weigh in on free speech on their campus. We only got four responses. (Maybe a sign it’s still a sensitive topic?)

Here are their responses from editors in New York, Tennessee, Georgia and California.

Josh Hamburger
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
Vanderbilt Hustler

According to polling we have done at the Vanderbilt Hustler in the past, the campus appears to lean toward the left politically. The dominant conversation often arises from this side, which in turn causes more criticism for people who speak with more right-leaning opinions.

So while I believe that free speech exists on campus, we probably are not hearing as much from the political right on issues because they are in the minority. However, the criticism people may receive — from both sides — is itself an aspect of free speech and should be welcomed. The balance may be off-centered on campus, but that is free speech as much as anything else.


Danni Wong
University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
Daily Trojan

As a student journalist, my instinct is to defend free speech, as it is the chief pillar of free press. I look at our campus, which has not been historically known for its activism, and I celebrate the student voices ignited by the new presidential administration. I also jump to protect the voices I do not personally agree with — the ones that promote the current president’s hateful rhetoric — in an attempt to reach across the aisle.




Justin Mattingly
Syracuse University Syracuse, NY
The Daily Orange

Free speech has been a pressing issue at Syracuse for the past few years. In the fall of 2014, a coalition of student organizations held an 18-day sit-in in the university’s administration building, protesting a number of causes, including diversity, sexual assault resources and inclusiveness.

When some of the protesters were delivered highlighted copies of the code of conduct, it immediately triggered a conversation about free speech and the rights of protesters on a college campus with functioning activism. A working group on free speech was assembled and some of its recommendations have taken effect. The university still holds a speech code rating of Red, as determined by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.


Sidney Park
Savannah College of Art & Design Atlanta, GA
The Connector

I believe this publication and this campus respect the perspectives of students…but the idea that freedom of speech protects you from criticism and public reproach is outlandish and misinformed.

We have many differing perspectives on campus,  and regardless of their party affiliation — whether Republican, Democrat, or third party — every student on campus feels comfortable expressing their views. They also feel free to debate openly among their peers, and are critical of each other’s perspectives in a way that promotes discussion and new ideas.

Are you an editor of a campus newspaper and want to weigh in on this debate, tweet us @YouthRadio.


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