Freedom of Speech on a College Campus

What would you do if a swastika was hung outside your dorm room or building by another student? How would you react to any offensive object or behavior that was considered free speech of another person? Many people do not know what they would do or how they would react and handle the situation if they found themselves in it. In the essay, “Protecting Freedom of Expression on the Campus,” author Derek Bok gives insight on the same situation which becomes a major concern at Harvard University, involving some students.

Freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment which allows many actions and personal expressions to be valid and legal. Freedom of speech should be allowed on college campuses as long as it does not cause danger of personal threats to anyone. It is very important to know how far the rule of free speech can go and some of its acceptions. Many things in the world can take offense to a group of people or just one thing can offend one person. There will always be something that another person disagrees with but every person has the right to free speech.

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The problem within the Supreme Court is the point at which something might offend one person or a group of people, but others are acceptable to it. Bok claims that the acts are “insensitive and unwise,” but are permitted and lawfully legal (Barnet and Bedau 66). Bok does not agree with the act of hanging the Confederate flag in public view or putting up a swastika in response. However, he does agree with the law in which every person of the United States has the right and freedom to express themselves in any way that does not cause harm, due to the First Amendment. It is important to distinguish between the appropriateness of such communications and their status under the First Amendment” (Barnet and Bedau 66). There is no telling how another student will react to such an act of seeing a swastika or Confederate flag hanging. The object may anger another person causing him or her to retaliate and fight or lash out at the wrong-doers. Just as it is legal to protest against something one believes in or burn a flag, it is legal to put up a swastika or Confederate flag.

One reasonable explanation may be that the person displaying the Confederate flag is proud to express where he or she has come from. It may not have been to anger anyone or make others uncomfortable, but may as well have been a reminder of his or her past. People are very quick to assume and jump to conclusions when something is done that they do not agree with or feel offended by. Others continue on and let things be. To simply “ignore” issues such as offensive language, flags, and so forth is a great start to eliminating the absurd acts of people who try to get a reaction from others based on their own.

To simply ignore the acts of students who are participating in absurd actions would be a great way to eliminate absurd behavior on campuses. If the student or students are not getting the response they want from others, it is likely they will not continue to display such objects as a Confederate flag or a Swastika. Many people who are troublesome react off of other people’s reactions which spark them to test their luck at an even higher level. People who enjoy causing havoc will take their wrong-doings to a greater extent if allowed to. There is a limit to how much freedom a campus can take away.

It is hard to distinguish between what actions are threatening and how far a person can use their freedom of speech to express themselves. Campuses have a hard time with figuring out how far is too far and what must be banned across the board. A concern is how much can be prevented without depriving students of their freedoms. Bok says, “If we begin to forbid flags, it is only a short step to prohibiting offensive speakers” (66). He continues to say, “I suspect that no community will become humane and caring restricting what its members can say. The worst offenders will simply find other ways to irritate and insult. This is a very good point. It would be impossible to keep people from expressing themselves but there is a way to keep a limit on how far a person can go having the First Amendment of freedom of speech behind them. Freedom of speech should have its limits when being dealt with on a college campus but the students should also have the “ignore it” mentality if something offends them and they can do nothing about it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and freedom so it is easier to ignore something that you do not like or disagree with, than to take matters into your own hands.

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