- “We want to remind students of their liberties now, or we could very much lose them in the future.”
- “Policies at my school make it difficult to find the fine line between what is free speech and what is harassment.”
- “I want more students to fight instead of being afraid, which we have gotten better at doing, but still have a long way to go.”
- “The free speech policies and culture [on college campuses] have been getting worse over time…We need to make people aware that this is happening in order to make change.”
Senior at the University of Utah
Major: Business Administration
Q: In your winning Instagram photo, you are lying in the middle of a Free Speech Ball. What is a Free Speech Ball and what’s the story behind this photo?
A: free speech ball is a giant beach ball that anyone can sign saying whatever they want on it. Because it is so big and easy to roll around, it attracts people when recruiting [for a student group] on campus. This photo was taken on Constitution Day, and as we know, many college campuses (in one way or another) restrict students of their First Amendment (free speech) rights. We want to remind students of their liberties now, or we could very much lose them in the future. I just happened to be lying in the middle of the Free Speech Ball to deflate it when the photo was taken. But I realized it could also represent “freedom” when we have free speech.
Q: Do free speech policies at your school make it easier or more difficult for students to express their opinions?
A: I am definitely grateful that the University of Utah respects free speech. But ever since the Office for Inclusive Excellence came out with a microaggressions campaign to report a “Bias Incident,” it has made free speech more difficult to express on our campus, especially when you do not intend to offend someone. In fact, last year during Hispanic Heritage month, several administrators were frustrated with our Turning Point USA [student group] because we were tabling about how socialism and communism kill in Latin American nations. We placed fliers all over campus that [showed examples of] communist and socialist dictators who have ruined their own countries. The fliers were approved by the university [for us to post around campus,] but were removed by unknown sources. People thought we were targeting and harassing them when we really were stating how communism and socialism have killed so many people. Policies at my school make it difficult to find the fine line between what is free speech and what is harassment.
I am also grateful for Representative Kim Coleman who pushes free speech bills in the Utah Legislature to ensure that students are able to express freely on college campuses around the state. Dixie State University in St. George, Utah is known as one of the worst colleges for free speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). [A student group at Dixie State] had to file a lawsuit against the school in order to change a policy. It was one of the reasons Representative Coleman started pushing free speech legislation here in Utah. Limiting free speech can happen anywhere, even in Utah.
Q: Do your fellow students on campus know their First Amendment rights? Do they fight for them when policies restrict their speech?
A: Unfortunately, most of [the student body at my school] tends to be apathetic when it comes to these basic policies. This is why we table— so students know their First Amendment rights on campus. However, I have met several students who were not at all involved with organizations that fight for free speech, and they stated that the free speech policies and culture [on campus] have been getting worse over time. Sadly, I have to agree it is getting worse. Last year, I was grateful that students were frustrated when an instructor (who was reassigned duties) set up a “Second Amendment zone” in the back of her classroom for students that conceal carried (firearms). But other than that, students have been apathetic. I do not care if they are involved in politics or not. Students need to know their [Constitutional] rights so they don’t need to worry about speaking up in the future. I want more students to fight instead of being afraid, which we have gotten better at doing, but still have a long way to go.
Q: What can we do to change the culture of censorship on college campuses across the country?
A: We can change the culture of censorship by having conversations with people we disagree with. At times, it also requires us to take action, including meeting with administrators to change a policy, tabling on campus, building coalitions with likeminded groups to show our support for free speech, and more. Most people will listen, and it will even make them more aware. I did not realize how bad campus free speech was until a friend got me involved with Turning Point USA. We need to make people aware that this is happening in order to make change. I also believe legislation is important to push free speech in the right direction, but we also need to make a change ourselves.
I write for Campus Reform, and I have written and read numerous stories about free speech restrictions. People say that articles don’t necessarily make change, but I have seen many Campus Reform stories help change policies on campuses. I am grateful for organizations such as Leadership Institute, Speech First, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and more who defend these basic liberties every single day. I hope to continue to be a part of it after I graduate.
*You can follow Frances Floresca on Twitter at @francesanne123.