In light of the recent University of Oklahoma fraternity chant scandal and the University of California Irvine flag ban controversy, many are asking: How much freedom of speech do students really have on campus?
When a group of white males proudly chants racial slurs during a school-associated event, it’s hard to argue that public universities should not place restrictions on speech. On the other hand, it’s still important to note that the cornerstone of many of our nation’s greatest educational facilities has been freedom to protest and spearhead debates.
On March 10 the president of University of Oklahoma expelled two of the students involved in the recent racist video scandal and also delivered an apologetic statement, but not before news media had started buzzing with the controversy.
Flames were further added to the fire of the freedom of speech debate when a University of California at Irvine student body passed legislation that banned all flags on campus, including our nation’s very own stars and stripes.
So where do public schools draw the line? The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech,” but does this apply as explicitly on school grounds as it does in public?
We’ve seen Supreme Court cases such as Engel vs. Vitale (1962) in which public school prayers were declared unconstitutional. So I’d say it’s fairly safe to assume that a chant depicting clearly racist material would not be acceptable for any public school-affiliated group.
What’s especially upsetting about the University of Oklahoma frat incident is the fact that their chant was threatening towards a specific race. I find it hard to argue that any law could protect that.
More controversy arises when looking at the UC Irvine flag banning that happened the week of March 8. The flag ban called to remove all national flags, and many say that it was aimed at making a more comfortable campus.
This claim, however, overlooks the fact that our national emblem—an item that some people believe shouldn’t ever touch the ground—was not allowed to be flown at this public institution under the new rule. In all honesty, this ban could be considered a passive aggressive dig at our nation’s heritage.
So why can’t we find a middle ground? Public schools and universities reflect our country’s up and coming citizens, and if we say students have a right to ban our American flag, some might consider that equal to allowing them to proclaim racial chants as they please. We need to accept that, as students stepping onto a public school campus, we are agreeing to sacrifice some of our freedoms.