Free speech or safe spaces?

Tennessee Republican Rep. Martin Daniel tried to pass a bill called the “Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act.”

His goal was to “guarantee all students the right to express themselves on college campuses, whether their opinions are considered open-minded, closed-minded, religious, non-religious, anti-religious, brilliant, stupid, progressive or offensive,” according to www.local8now.com.

The College Fix reported the bill would ban bias incident reporting mechanisms  and limit universities from disciplining students unless threats or harassment were involved. Furthermore, it would ban schools from establishing safe zones in open-air spaces.

A safe zone is a space where members of the LGBT+ community can openly discuss their lives with confidentiality and without facing judgmental backlash from non-supportive members of the community. Other safe zones protect different demographics, such as a rape victims, in a similar way.

Daniel’s bill was taken off the floor, however, when he stated that it would allow ISIS to recruit on college campuses as long as it did not disrupt campus activities unduly. This, of course, is very much against the law and led to the downfall of the bill.

But Daniel is not the first, and will not be the last, to criticize the widespread movement toward creating safe spaces on college campuses.

In a recent opinion piece, Noah Feldman of the Bloomberg View advocated for free speech zones on college campuses to counteract the safe spaces. He argues that although the law currently treats universities like workplaces, they should instead be treated like public forums where individuals are not protected from racist or sexist speech.

Feldman’s argument became especially interesting when he asked, “could a Donald Trump rally be understood as creating a racially hostile environment?” He added that this is possible, but that banning Trump rallies would lead to unfair promotion of Democratic candidates.

Feldman’s hypothetical Trump-ban relates to a recent situation at Emory University, where “Trump 2016” graffiti prompted protests from students who felt the graffiti was threatening and divisive due to Trump’s bigoted stances against demographics including Mexicans, Muslims and women. Other students felt that the anti-graffiti protests were an attack on free speech by the “P.C” culture.

So, are we as a university more like a public forum, or a work place?

This question seems obvious to me. As a student, I live, eat, attend classes and other events, and work on campus. Framingham State is beyond a workplace to me  – it’s my home, and it’s the home of thousands of other students.

Free speech is a necessary part of our society, and public forums are crucial. But free speech doesn’t mean you have to feel constantly uncomfortable in your home. This is a community, and our community should stand against all attacks against minority students, whether those attacks are physical or verbal.

To me, this issue is not about whether we should protect free speech. Of course free speech needs to be protected. Rather, this issue is about whether students should have control over their community – a community they pay to be part of.

If your idea of “free speech” involves seeking out LGBT+ and racial minorities and verbally degrading them inside their home, our community would be better off without you.

Framingham State is not a free-for-all public forum. It isn’t a workplace. It’s where we live. Allow us to live in peace.

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