/Free speech, what’s changing?

Free speech, what’s changing?

Graphic by DeAndra Hodge

Earlier this year, Gov. Kay Ivey signed in a law, under which universities are prohibited from establishing “free speech zones.” 

This means that Alabama’s public universities, including the University of Montevallo, are required to adopt policies that allow students to freely express their opinions on controversial issues.   

While the legislation limits university officials’ ability to silence students, it can only do so much. 

The most recent example that I can think of is this past month, the student government at the University of Alabama told football fans to “behave” during Trump’s visit to Tuscaloosa. 

“Any organizations that engage in disruptive behavior during the game will be removed from block seating instantly for the remainder of the season,” said the letter addressed to the student body from Jason Rothfarb, vice president of student affairs. 

There are so many issues with this instance. What’s considered disruptive? Who decides someone’s crossed a line? Beyond some logistical issues, the fact of that specific situation was that UA’s officials weren’t trying to hush students. It was fellow students, though some may disagree with this assessment of the letter’s intentions. 

As big as the University of Alabama is, if a group of students wanted to quiet others here at the University of Montevallo, what’s to stop them? 

Montevallo is a largely liberal campus, and so, if a group of conservative students were to plan an event, like a protest, what’s to stop other students from oppressing them? Oppressing any kind of group doesn’t even have to involve an altercation; it’s the fear of consequences that stops people from speaking up. 

It’s a good thing that it is no longer acceptable to speak in a frankly sexist, racist or homophobic manner. However, whenever it comes to speaking against the norm, there are some social consequences that come from speaking openly. Challenging the status quo comes with its own consequences and for a college student, the pressure to succeed is so great because the cost of failure, perceived or real, is so high.   

In my opinion, I think that this law has noble intentions. Ivey wants to protect free speech on campuses. But why is free speech important to higher education anyways? 

As a future journalist, my livelihood is going to depend on what other people have to say, but that isn’t the case for everyone. 

Universities are a natural place for discussion and debate. Far from being an “echo chamber,” college is often the most diverse place — racially, politically, economically — many students have or will ever encounter. Since coming to college, I’ve met some of the greatest people I’ve ever met and knowing their stories has made me a better person and a better writer.  

We are here to get our education, but I think that’s more than a piece of paper that we get at the end of our four years on campus. College is just as much about becoming critical thinkers with our own ideas of the world.  

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Ariel Hall is a writer for The Alabamian. She is a senior communication studies major and enjoys reading and photography in her free time. Previously, Zoe has acted as editor in chief, lifestyles editor and advice columnist.