Young Americans for Liberty, free speech and beach balls

Who was responsible for the lifesize beachball in the Spa this week? Well, it was the campus Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) who created the display to promote free speech, raise awareness of the school’s harassment policy and to advocate for the adoption of the University of Chicago’s free speech principles.

The “Chicago Principles” were outlined in in several statements made by University of Chicago faculty and the administration over the past few years. But one statement by Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law Geoffrey R. Stone provides the most concrete examination of the administration’s’ objectives. He explained that “the University is committed to the principle that it may not restrict debate or deliberation because the ideas put forth are thought to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the members of the University community to make those judgments for themselves.” Speech may only be restricted when it “violates the law, is threatening, harassing, or defamatory, or invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests. Moreover, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University.”

The Colby student handbook conveys a similar sentiment. It reads “The right of free speech – which does not include a right to harass, injure, or silence others – is essential in an academic community and will be vigorously upheld. Infringing upon the expression of views, either by interfering with a speaker or by defacing or removing properly posted or distributed notices or materials, will not be tolerated.”

While it may appear that the College is committed to enforcing freedom of expression, Raj Kane, Colby chapter president of the Young Americans for Liberty, argues that the College’s harassment policy is flawed and could undermine freedom of expression if fully enforced. “The Colby harassment policy is quite vague. It says that any intimidating or hostile remarks could be [considered] harassment. This is very problematic.” Kane also expressed concern over the use of “self-esteem” as one of the primary metrics used by Colby to define harassment. “We don’t feel that self-esteem has a place in that policy. It should really focus on a student’s performance in school and a student’s well-being.” While Kane agreed that Colby should reserve the right to limit harmful speech, he argued that well-intentioned policies can often create adverse effects. “We see that a lot of these speech policies around the country are being used to silence debate of contrasting views political views. People find them to be disagreeable and instead of debating they try to censor [the other view].” Others are concerned that a weak harassment policy could be equally problematic. Carolyn Jones ‘19 argues that “there are types of speech that should absolutely be prohibited, especially speech that is violent towards identities.”

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