About 25 students debated the line between harassment and free speech, safe spaces and everything in between during the first Forum on Free Expression and Inclusion, hosted by Dean of Students Jerry Price Sept. 14 in the Student Union.
“Our democracy relies on universities being the places where free exchange of ideas is pushed,” Price said. “Ideas cannot violate policy, behavior violates policy.”
The free speech dialogue on college campuses was re-ignited when the University of Chicago condemned safe spaces and trigger warnings in a letter to incoming freshmen this fall.
Chapman ratified its own statement supporting free speech after the University of Chicago released its original declaration on free speech in January 2015.
Price recognizes that many colleges handle issues of freedom of expression poorly, and bwelieves it is because they never talk about it or set rules and policies until a major event transpires.
“(The forum) is something I’ve been planning for months,” Price told The Panther. “I’ve been following incidents at other campuses and watching how different institutions respond.”
Some students were concerned about the university’s stance on the division between free speech and harassment.
“I criticize religion a lot,” said Matthew Joy, an undeclared freshman. “Where do you draw the line between criticism and harassment?”
Price said that the definition depends on the scope and target of the incident, but also said that the purpose of the forum was for students to critically think about where to draw the line.
“I don’t think (hypothetical situations) would have really helped to advance the more abstract thinking. I was trying to get students to avoid saying right away ‘Here’s where the line is.’” Price said. “I was hoping they would see the challenges with where to draw the line – on what kind of expression should be punished versus which expression is protected.”
Price emphasized that a racist statement is not grounds for punishment on its own – and that the most effective form of punishment can often be criticism from peers.
“I especially appreciated what Dean Price said about how the greatest punishment for an offensive, possibly hate-driven idea is ridicule from peers,” Joy said. “Ridiculous ideas deserve to be ridiculed.”
Price said that stringent limitations enforced by the university would potentially do more harm than good.
“When you start facilitating speech, it’s always going to be used by the people of authority to favor the majority,” Price said during the event.
A student at Kansas State University was criticized for using a racial slur and blackface in a Snapchat earlier this month.
Although it is unclear whether the student was expelled, some student organizations said that she was not welcome back
Price does not necessarily believe that students should be expelled from a university over offensive comments posted on social media.
“(The post) was just on their own private account. So should students be expelled from their institution for speaking publicly on their own private accounts?” Price said.
Price also does not believe that the university should only invite speakers with certain viewpoints.
“We need to have a wide range of speakers,” Price said. “Even if you disagree, there’s value to hearing a different opinion.”
However, Price told The Panther that he was trying to ensure that students understood the value of free speech during the forum.
“I don’t even necessarily agree with everything I was saying,” Price said. “I was just trying to advocate for the value of freedom of expression.”
Read a guest column about trigger warnings and safe spaces here.
Read The Panther’s editorial on the forum here.