Censors violate student expression


by Kelly Gardner

Do you have a voice? Well, feel free to speak up! We are fortunate to live in the U.S., where our right to speak freely is protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment guarantees our right to express ourselves in a variety of contexts, so why do some colleges and universities retaliating against outspoken students who attempt to exercise their right to freedom of expression. However, representatives from foreign and domestic institutions of higher education have been establishing their own rules and restrictions related to freedom of speech, completely disregarding individual rights.

Honi Soit, a school magazine at the University of Sydney recently attempted to publish an article entitled “The Vagina Dialogues,” which was meant to address the over-sexualization and objectification of woman’s bodies. The article was to be accompanied by a cover photo displaying 18 uncensored vaginas, all of which were voluntarily submitted by University of Sydney students. A reported 4,000 copies of the article were unsuccessfully circulated because the Students Representative Council suspected the cover crossed legal boundaries and the magazine did not want to censor the cover.

Last year at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a student slipped copies of a letter beneath the doors of his fellow students. His letter expressed a longing to meet new people who desired to create a more positive social atmosphere on campus. The tone of the letter came across as vehement and slightly abrasive, resulting in a large backlash from the student body. Because of the severity of the reactions expressed by a large portion of the university, the student was asked to withdraw from the university, which he did. I understand how institutes of higher education have the burden of protecting their reputations, but in this instance the University of Massachusetts should have helped the student re-address his peers.

According to the Huffington Post, “The University of Cincinnati maintains a shockingly restrictive free speech zone comprising just 0.1% of the school’s 137-acre campus.” If  a student dares to speak out about an issue on the University of Cincinnati campus they must first acquire permission to use the area 10 days in advance, and face potential criminal charges if they violate any school policy. The U.S. is supposed to be the most speech-protective country in the world, so why are American students required to obtain permission in order to exercise their rights?

Undocumented events discussed online in the Reddit community have also sparked heated debates regarding the right to freedom of speech. Pictures posted to the forum showed male students from Radford University hanging sexually suggestive banners from their houses. The banners displayed slogans such as “Thank U fathers 4 ur freshman daughters” and “Your daughters walk of shame starts here.” Similarly controversial, yet more humorous and well received, was an alleged display at an art room at the University of Minnesota. The student’s piece displayed 5 identical Captain America figures masturbating. While most readers took extreme offense toward the vulgarity of the banners hung by the Radford University students, there were comical and creative responses posted in regards to the Captain America exhibit.

These types of events are taking place around college campuses, and as a student you should be aware of your right to express your feelings on these topics. Whether you have many words to say about one thing, or few words to say about many things, it is your right to voice your opinion.

Students need to exercise the right to explore different outlets of expression. By allowing everyone to express how they feel about different topics, universities can encourage open-mindedness in a student body. It is important to be exposed to multiple perspectives on an issue to gain a complete understanding. Even if you do not agree with the opposing side of an issue, by taking the time to research and understand where opposing arguments are coming from it becomes easier to clarify or support your own standpoint. And while certain subjects may be considered insensitive, vulgar, or shocking to some, it is still important to educate the public on every issue.

In response to “The Vagina Dialogues,” Honi Soit reader Trisha Jha commented, “If you can’t push the boundaries in a student newspaper at a university, where can you? Universities are places where you’re meant to be challenged and confronted — any censorship goes against that spirit.”

I cannot agree more with Jha. As long as the messages we broadcast to the world are supported by facts and honorable intentions, society should remain open-minded and rich with diverse ideas.

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