Has University Free Speech Been Threatened? Trump Certainly Thinks So

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Earlier this month, President Trump has announced that he will a free speech order for college campuses. This proposed executive order stands to guarantee protection for college student’s free speech by threatening the federal funding of colleges institutions if they do not protect “the viewpoints of students of all political stripes.” This notion is perceived by some as inherently unnecessary. The argument from CNN is that Trump’s proposition is based on a false interpretation of the factual events transpiring on college universities. This is based on the testimony given by Hayden Williams, a conservative activist, who was punched on a college campus. CNN says that this occurrence is flawed as Williams is not a student and got in an argument with a man who was also not a student on the campus. Williams was there for a growing organization called Turning Point USA after being asked to assist in recruiting from the students present during the violent encounter.

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While this sentiment is valid, it is just one case of many that have been cited since the election of Trump into office. While protesting has always been an active part of the “free-speech” mentality in the US, in recent years we have witnessed a turn in protesting that ends up prohibiting the free speech of others by canceling conservative events, such as when Berkeley College “canceled a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative speaker and professional provocateur.” Further protesting has even blocked the entrance to events on college campuses, such as at “Claremont McKenna College, a private liberal arts school in Southern California," in 2017, when “about 250 people blocked entrances to an auditorium” where conservative writer/speaker Heather Mac Donald was to give a speech. Further attempts against students have been issued, such as when a student in Northern California was told her MAGA hat was against dress code and made to take it off. The case is now under investigation after no rules in the dress code were found against hat wear or political wear. After attending a Turning Point meeting on the CU campus, I was also able to understand that the general consensus for the members of this student club organization is that they do not feel comfortable expressing their political beliefs on campus or in the classroom and fear retaliation from peers in social shaming and actual assault.

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The whole case brings about a careful consideration for what free speech is and who gets to decide what constitutes as such. The protestors who continue to make conservative voices difficult to hear on predominantly liberal campuses truly believe they are in the right, countering their offensive actions by saying they are defending against “hate-speech.” The issues with this proclamation are simply that hate-speech cannot be so easily defined. So who gets to decide what is and is not hate speech? Personally speaking, it does appear as if the general consensus from both sides is that anything that goes against one sides beliefs is considered by them “hate-speech.”

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Is free speech really under attack on Universities? And can an executive order by the president really stand to solve anything?

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This announcement by President Trump was referenced during another topic the administration is trying to tackle in regards to the horrific amount of student loans currently floating over the heads of US citizens. Student debt has doubled over the last decade, surpassing $1.5 trillion last year. The hope is to make universities “have skin in the game through a loan risk-sharing program.” The document in question reads, “A better system would require postsecondary institutions accepting taxpayer funds to share a portion of the financial responsibility associated with student loans.” For better or worse, the hope is to change the perceived flaws in the university systems for the better.