Millennials

As Student Activism Grows, So Does Campus Resistance to Free Speech

"Procedure" is quite the effective tool for stifling student expression, but calls for "civility" and "tolerance" do the trick, too.

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"Free speech all the time. Not just when admin says when, where, what about," read one side of the neon-yellow sign fielded by Ali Cohen, an education major at Coastal Carolina University, during a recent campus rally. On the sign's flip side: "#BlackLivesMatter. And I should not be facing charges for writing that… in chalk."

@StudentUnionCCU/Twitter

Cohen is one of a handful of Coastal students facing disciplinary action for sidewalk chalk messages protesting racial injustice and the non-indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in Michael Brown's shooting. Three of the students—those caught in the act—were handcuffed and detained by CCU police. Cohen was identified by surveillance camera footage from the night before. "The video showed multiple people," says Cohen. "They identified me from a picture of me in the library."

The university said it will not be pursing criminal charges, but Cohen and her chalk co-conspirators have been charged with violations of the university's conduct code, including vandalism and "unauthorized usage/entry." A police incident report alleges $1,000 in damages from the chalk—the same sort regularly used by Greek organizations and student groups on the same campus sidewalks. 

But "the individuals did not get prior approval from the Office of Student Life, as is required by university polices," explained the university in a statement. Approval requires being a member of a registered student organization and making the request at least a week in advance. 

The situation at Coastal echoes other recent conflicts between university administrations and student activists. Across the country, student activism has been on an upswing, according to City University of New York (CUNY) historian Angus Johnston, who created a Google map charting 50 recent student protests, walkouts, and demonstrations.

"This has been an extraordinary autumn for student organizing in the United States," writes Johnston. "From protests against police brutality and sexual assault to anti-tuition demonstrations and a new wave of campus occupations, students have been standing up and speaking out to a degree not seen since the heyday of Occupy." 

Ali Cohen/Twitter

One of the most striking trends Johnston noted was that of high-school protests and demonstrations. In Minneapolis, 400 South High School students walked out of class and marched to the local police station on November 25 to protest the events in Ferguson. Hundreds of New York City high school students did the same thing on December 1. 

But high-schoolers are often treated to the same lessons in speech restrictions as U.S. college students like those at Coastal. In Lewiston, Maine, high schoolers had a #BlackLivesMatter poster taken down by Lewiston School Administration. Student Muna Mohamed posted to Facebook: "Their rebuttal for why we are being forced to take this display down is all lives matter, they don't want to make people uncomfortable." The school said the students had not gone through the proper poster approval process. 

Procedure is quite the effective tool for stifling student expression, but there are others. Campus administrators are also fond of mentioning things like "civility" (heaven forbid strong language be used when discussing things like state violence) and "tolerance." It's apparently intolerant these days to speak out against perceived political or social injustices in a way that might confuse, offend, or "threaten" the emotional well-being of anyone.

At the University of Iowa last week, school officials declared an art installation highlighting racial violence to be inexcusable hate speech because some confused its meaning to be pro-racism. Administrators apologized to the student body and demanded the artist, visiting professor and art fellow Serhat Tanyolacar, do so as well. 

Tanyolacar originally apologized on Twitter, but issued another statement Wednesday in which he espoused his belief that "freedom of speech is an essential part of all civil societies" and "public art is one of the most vital acts of free speech available to the civilian." He said his work's aim was "to trigger awareness and open dialogue," and that's exactly what it has done.

While sorry for causing any individuals on campus any pain, "the wounds are part of the work," Tanyolacar stressed. "I think now it is time to think harder about our daily actions; it is time to think beyond our individual experience; it is time to engage in active politics and make oppressed voices heard by the Justice System and by the Government." 

Between the lines of Tamyolacar's statement is something important: the prevailing campus wisdom about shielding every individual from potential hurt, micro-slights, or offense may make everyone feel good, but it doesn't do a damn thing to foster actual, systemic change. The personal may be political, but it's not all there is to politics.

When we don't expose ideas to criticism or questioning out of politeness or a desire not to provoke, we wind up with lazy thinking and in turn lazy solutions. That's the environment that campus speech censors are fostering. 

NEXT: Greenpeace Ruined an Ancient Peruvian Landmark, Crazy Students Chased Peter Thiel Off Stage, Republicans vs. the IRS: P.M. Links

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  1. Here’s a bucket of water, and a brush. Get busy.

  2. At the University of Iowa last week, school officials declared an art installation highlighting racial violence to be inexcusable hate speech because some confused its meaning to be pro-racism.

    To be fair, though, in this case, the administration was acting based on the demands of the students.

      1. Only the noisy ones. The ones that count.

    1. To be fair, the demands of the students should have been laughed away by everyone, including other students.

  3. “But with it has come increased efforts to suppress speech and exert control from college adminstrators….”

    And – more often than not – from the students themselves. Hello, George Will!!!

  4. “When we don’t expose ideas to criticism or questioning out of politeness or a desire not to provoke”

    So, Elizabeth, would this criticism extend to writing a petition to campus administrators asking that a speaker be disinvited from speaking?

    1. Should the chalk conspirators have been arrested before or after writing their inflammatory chalk slogans?

      1. I would say never.

        I also think that students paying 30k/yr should get more for their dollar than a boring right-wing fuddieduddie. But, hey, that because I ‘m a crypto -fascist member of the PC police.

        1. They should get another leftoid designed to look hip while talking about collectivism LOL

          1. If we are talking about hip, why not get nick Gillespie? Did you know he’s like Lou reed and can score you some pot?

            1. Wait a second, is Gillespie dead now, too?!

        2. I also think that students paying 30k/yr should get more for their dollar than a boring right-wing fuddieduddie.

          They certainly have more than enough left-wing fuddie-duddies to fill that role.

  5. “#BlackLivesMatter. And I should not be facing charges for writing that.”

    Everything must be racialized. Every. Thing.

    1. In fairness, these could be read as two separate statements, both of which are indeed independently correct. But the implication is that she’s been targeted for writing that particular statement, and not for defacing property with chalk (admittedly an absurd charge).

  6. school officials declared an art installation highlighting racial violence to be inexcusable hate speech ?. Administrators apologized

    They apologized for something inexcusable? What a waste!

  7. Let’s not forget that the courts ruled it was ok for the principal to suspend students for wearing an American flag T-shirt during Cinco De Mayo. Apparently, even a remote possibility of angry Latinos rioting is justification enough for such zero tolerance policy. So……. taste of their own medicine.

    We already hang signs and posters of all kind during election year or holidays. I see them hung on fences at school all the time. Why do kids need approval process for those? Writing texts on the floor and walls is a bit more harder to manage.

    I honestly don’t have much sympathy for these students. They live in ideological cocoons all their lives and resist honest debate of any kind. They relish the opportunity to shame or restrict speech from their opposition. “OMG if you doubt rape allegations you’re a rape apologist”.

    Of course they’re entitled to free speech, even if they only defend it for the sake of their activism. But these kinds of incidents should be a teachable moment. But it won’t be for the future unemployed of America.

    1. Not to suggest these aren’t intellectually coddled students, but it’s tough to argue that they’re resisting honest debate by protesting publically.

      1. It really isn’t.

  8. My family is mostly conservative, my wife’s is mostly progressive. I’m sort of the oddball in both. I quickly learned after I got married that there is really no counterpart to the right-wing nutter uncle among the left. EVERYONE is that right-wing nutter uncle. The most mainstream proggie on my wife’s side is perfectly willing to ruin a holiday meal, hound you, insult you, ignore you, write you emails, write you off, etc. etc. etc., over a run-of-the-mill-disagreement regarding any political topic, whereas the small town Republican types on mine–while certainly capable of being assholes–will at least respond somewhat gracefully to an embarrassed nudge from a spouse or sibling and shut-up while the pie is passed, and sometimes even apologize to you afterward. My wife’s family all have master’s degrees or higher from good schools, while mine are more of a community college crowd who make decent livings as mechanics and salespeople. Without exception, the better the degree, the greater the intolerance; the finer the institution, the quicker the willingness to hurt someone’s feelings or much, much worse. “Activism” is poison. Fuck activists.

    1. A friend of my aunt’s – that I have never met, not even a Facebook friend, not nothing – once sent me an email EXCORIATING me for not planning to vote for her preferred Democratic presidential candidate (I can only assume my aunt had shared her frustration that I felt John Kerry was a complete dipshit). Thankfully, she copied my aunt on the email, who talked her into an apology before I sent that… woman an elaborate GFY reply. Years later, glad I ignored her.

    2. “The most mainstream proggie on my wife’s side is perfectly willing to ruin a holiday meal, hound you, insult you, ignore you, write you emails, write you off, etc. etc. etc., over a run-of-the-mill-disagreement regarding any political topic”

      I met people like this at college. They’ll randomly hijack the class to start a political discussion or attempt comedy at the expense of some Republican. Because the prof is usually left, he will also jump in and have a merry little time.

      These people are hardcore anti-establishment. And yet, the establishment they trash in class are progressive strongholds. Hollywood is sexist, Wall Street is ran by Republicans, and the schools are racist because the black kids don’t do well, etc etc.

      And they’re terrible, terrible writers and cultural philistines. Only I knew what a “chamber pot” was, and the class was 90% white.

    3. Well, I’m a way-left liberal, and I’ll certainly grant you that liberals on the whole are way, way more self-righteous than conservatives. It’s no end of annoyance for me, because I think this smugness belies a deep inability to be truly open-minded, and represents liberal ideology quite poorly. (The one does not necessarily follow from the other, but for many people I think being able to take what they see as the moral higher ground is an appeal of liberal ideology in the first place.) On the other hand, I’m no longer even surprised when I meet really nice and genuinely personable people who turn out to be conservatives. I know many whom I love, but totally disagree with on just about everything vaguely socio-political. If what you mean by “fuck activists” is “fuck hounding, kool-aid drinking zealots,” I’ll agree. Genuine activists, though, who go out and do shit instead of just complain on comment threads or whatnot, well, I like them. On the whole, I think activists of that sort are better people (whatever their beliefs) than those who just sit back and bitch.

  9. ” an education major at Coastal Carolina University”

    Double affliction there.

  10. Hey, these are the same students who want to ban every commencement speaker to the right of Mumia, so screw ’em…how’s it feel sunshine?

    1. I think it’s probably a minority of students involved in that

      1. Well, a minority of students are involved in these protests. And there’s probably a high correlation between the two groups.

        Not that it matters. Even assholes have rights.

  11. I’d care more about the speech restriction if it weren’t also vandalism.

    1. That…is an awful sentence and I apologize for the poor composition.

      1. Now write out your amended sentence until you fill the chalkboard a la Bart Simpson.

        1. chalkboard

          [trigger warning: chalk]

          1. Must use white chalk because “colored” chalk is othering.

      2. Huh? It’s fine. I’ve seen much worse sentences from the people who get paid to write here.

  12. I wonder if any of Ali-with-an-i’s chalk co-conspirators was Daniel-with-an-L.

    1. Iali and Ldaniel? :p

      1. Hey, The Karate Kid has many more quotable lines than just “Sweep the leg” and “Get him a body bag.”

        1. Just. Can’t. Resist.

          “Always look eye.”
          “Don’t forget to breathe. Very important.”
          “Man who catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything.”
          “Beginner luck.”

          Damn, all of my faves focus on Mr. Miagi’s imperfect English. I’m kind of ashamed.

  13. The “campus protester” of today is such a whimpy, simpy, cowardly piece of nothing. You people really ought to consider taking heed of the theme song from the movie “M.A.S.H.”.

    Using chalk on a sidewalk is something an eleven year-old girl would do. For God’s sake, grow a pair, you little d-bags.

    1. At least put on a Guy Fawkes mask, for God’s sake. Until you’re instructed to take it off, of course.

  14. There is an ouroboros-like effect to the way in which the various SJWers are destroying each other for the sake of either insufficient purity or insufficient order in the ranks.

  15. …protesting racial injustice and the non-indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s shooting.

    Leave it to the left to draw all the wrong conclusions.

    This is not about race, it’s about government power.

    (Oh, BTW, fuck anyone stifling free speech.)

    1. So much this. One of these approaches has a chance of eliciting reforms that will by definition help to resolve encounters between minorities and police. The other will further inflame racial tensions and indelibly associate in the public’s mind the protests with the rioting. One is a credit to rational thinking, the other discredits their concerns altogether.

      So of course, activists will opt for the latter.

  16. Tanyolacar originally apologized on Twitter, but issued another statement Wednesday in which he espoused his belief that “freedom of speech is an essential part of all civil societies” and “public art is one of the most vital acts of free speech available to the civilian.” He said his work’s aim was “to trigger awareness and open dialogue,” and that’s exactly what it has done.

    So stop fucking apologizing.

  17. There is quite a contrast between this University’s reaction to protestors of the Ferguson grand jury vertict and various municipal police reactions to other protestors of it.

    In Nashville, a group of protestors shut down a major interstate by lying down on it and the police let them do it and didn’t arrest a single one of them.

    That is NOT a legitimate exercise of free speech.

    I rather doubt that the police would have handled people protesting Obama’s immigration executive order the same way if they had pulled such a stunt.

  18. A police incident report alleges $1,000 in damages from the chalk

    A powdered mineral that washes away in the rain caused 1,000 bucks worth of damage to a fucking sidewalk?

    1. $1,000 to have their unionized janitorial staff take half an hour to scrub away the chalk.

    2. Chalk is a pollutant, filled with carcinogens. And someone just left it on a sidewalk to contaminate the water supply. Think of teh chilrenz and teh fishiez, you callous, heartless bastard!

      1. Heh, chalk is the less poisionous thing you can put on your fries:

        Toxicity of chalk: 6450 mg/kg [Rat].

        Toxicity of table salt: 3000 mg/kg [Rat]

        Chalk doesn’t taste too good on your fries, though. Tastes kinda chalky.

  19. Good thing Cohen didn’t write “All Lives Matter” on the sidewalk–otherwise she would have gotten in even worse trouble.

    1. I wonder how #unbornblacklivesmatter would go over?

      1. Write the letters of #unbornblacklivesmatter in a hopscotch grid and have photogenic kids hopscotch all over it. It would be subliminal messaging at it’s best.

  20. Writing in chalk? Dumb idea because it changes the focus from the message to how the message was delivered.

    I’m for free speech on campus. Only concern is when people harass others with their free speech. Some schools have free speech zones to address that, but I’m not crazy about that either.

  21. Growing up on the southside of Chicago I would love to take one of these privileged and perpetually pissed-off college white kids who seem to go out of their way to display their abject disgust during these racially sensitive cases and drop them off in a few of these neighborhoods and see if their solidarity is reciprocated in kind.

    1. That would prove nothing.

  22. While I hate the stifling of speech and discourse here…does anyone else feel the slight bit of schadenfreude from seeing liberal students feeling the long arm of rules and laws requested to protect the sensibilities of “liberals”?

    I mean, the argument of “don’t request fascist rules” got lost on them when their “enemies” were on the losing end…now maybe they’ll see? (Like the argument of “maybe we shouldn’t give Obama super-autocrat powers…because Rick Santorum may get them” always seemed lost in a daze of glassy-eyed “unh unhs!”)

    (And probably not.)

  23. It’s not free speech when you’re defacing someone else’s property.

  24. It takes some gumption to vandalize someone else’s property and the, when charged for it, complain that YOUR rights are being violated.

    1. It’s not gumption but rather arrogance and idiocy.

    2. Yes, while I admire their spirit, I think it’s absolutely true that most Americans (and especially young Americans) have only the most basic understanding of what their rights actually are and mean. On the whole, we teach them about it in the most general and soundbyte-friendly terms, and get them all inspired about it, and then they just run rampant. If they want to break the rules, that’s one thing–but it’s sad that they don’t even realize they’re doing it. It’s very hard to make a case for yourself when you don’t know that the rules you’re breaking. I would be much more inclined to listen to someone who said, “I broke the rules for this reason” than to someone who said, “I’m allowed to do this!” I’ve been stopping traffic in NYC lately, which is against the law–but I’m not about to say, “What?! I have freedom of speech! The First Amendment!” Yeah–different universe.

  25. Lots of time for demonstrations but not for learning anything worthwhile. College has simply become a very expensive do-nothing, learn nothing but rage enterprise.

  26. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
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  27. Excellent article and comments! Too often the avoidance of controvery halts the progression of humanity and the way we relate to one another. Active discussions are necessary to avoid polarizing beliefs.

  28. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.jobs700.com

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