UT-Austin Students Debate Free Expression of Offensive Ideas

In this wonderful article, from the University of Texas at Austin’s student newspaper, we see how the best reaction to speech with which we disagree is not to make that speech illegal, but rather to debate the content of that speech and try to persuade others of our opinions.

Recently a student group at UT, Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT), sparked a controversy after they held an Anti-Affirmative Action bake sale. Many students at the university were disgusted by the YCT’s actions, but some of them have taken far more drastic measures by creating a student petition and a student government bill (AR 15) which call for the removal of YCT from campus.
As the author puts it:

Unfortunately, the ensuing student petition and Student Government bill (AR 15) for administrative action against YCT are susceptible to repudiation as well: both on free speech and educational grounds. The First Amendment licenses the right to offend, and though the bake sale vulgarly exercised this, AR 15 dismisses their free speech protections. This follows a troubling trend across campuses — where banners against prejudice waive discourse by imposing limits on free expression.

Motions such as AR 15 certainly stem from a feeling we can all understand, but, as the author says, students and administrators must realize “the difference between actions which discredit, and actions that harm us all.” Universities must remain a place where dissenting views, even those views we find vulgar or even morally indefensible, are discussed. Such discussion about topics of disagreement helps us to sharpen our own opinions and to grow intellectually. By censoring the speech of those with whom we disagree, we are only stunting students’ ability to develop their own reasoning and persuasion, and such development is what higher education is really all about.