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Protecting Free Speech on College Campuses

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On Wednesday, March 28, 2023, the Young Women for America (YWA) team attended the U.S. House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development’s Hearing on “Diversity of Thought: Protecting Free Speech on College Campuses.” At YWA, we know that free speech is a Constitutional right as it is declared in the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.” Leading this committee was Chairman Burgess Owens (R-Utah), who said, “The recent onslaught of attacks against free speech at colleges and universities across the nation violates the principles we stand for as Americans and runs afoul of their mission to cultivate freedom of thought.” While in the hearing, YWA heard of experiences on college campuses where invited speakers are silenced by protesters, students are encouraged by their institutions to file reports on peers who share opinions that differ from their own, and how students are afraid to write their real thoughts in their papers out of fear that their professors will penalize them.

Witness Ms. Cherise Trump, the executive director for Speech First and the host of Well Said podcast, shared, “There are these bias reporting systems where the universities have put mechanisms in place and constantly send emails and encourage students to report on each other and on faculty.” The danger and damage of this are twofold. First, a Constitutional right to freely speak one’s mind, without inciting violence, is being stripped away. Second, at a university level, the place to learn how to think and not what to think, free speech should be given ample platforms and encouraged in all settings. It is educating and mentally sharpening to hear worldviews that differ from one’s own, to learn how to civilly disagree with someone or to learn that two people may hold a shared opinion they did not know they had. However, universities are more and more becoming places for narrow-mindedness and entitlement to ignorance.

It was also brought to light that many of these anti-free speech initiatives are aimed at people of faith as well as those who hold to a Conservative worldview. When asked about this, witness Mr. Ilya Shapiro, Director of Constitutional Studies at the Manhattan Institute, replied, “There are many examples of religious groups that are not treated the same as secular groups of various kinds.” We have YWA chapters on campuses across this country, and many of them have experienced their events and opportunities being squashed due to the conservative and Christian content of their beliefs.

As it was informative to hear from witnesses actively working to protect free speech, another valuable perspective was given by Stanford Sophomore Mr. Josiah Joner. Joner is the executive editor for the Stanford Review and president of an Evangelical Christian group at Stanford. When talking of his experience, Joner shared, “What I have seen at Stanford is that the DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) office is very one-sided, there is not much neutrality,” and later that, “These DEI officials are not really promoting this diversity of thought, they are actually squashing it in the classroom and university.” From his testimony he revealed how school administrators are not committed to the principles of free speech, and students are not given information about their Constitutional rights while on campus.

The topic of the First Amendment is important because it is the Constitutional right of each American. Universities should be protecting this right simply because of what it is, a right. But additionally, universities have even more to gain from free speech as they are where people are exposed to different ideas and see where their opinions stand strong or where they need to change in the face of truth. It is one of YWA’s highest priorities to equip our student leaders with the resources they need to defend their Christian, conservative values. In order to engage with their peers, they must feel that they have the ability to speak freely. Silencing free speech teaches control as well as ignorant intolerance for people of differing opinions. It weakens minds by not teaching how one can hear the other side and still stand firm in what they believe. It is for these reasons that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution should be protected on college campuses, as well as everywhere in the country.