Though degradation of conservative opinion and oppression of speech in academia are nothing new, methods of speech regulation have changed throughout the years.
“We’re coming back to political correctness, but in a different way,” author and National Review writer David French told University of Georgia students at a lecture on Thursday. “The political correctness of yesterday was ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. I’m going to shut you down…because you deserve to be shut down.” French said free speech oppression in 2016 “is ‘I’m hurt as hell and I can’t hear it anymore. I’m traumatized by your speech.’”
French, who served as the past president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said his own dissenting opinions in the classroom often resulted in heated arguments with professors and students, and his conservative ideals earned him the label of “fascist” from his fellow classmates.
Today, it seems as though no campus is excluded from some degree of speech policing.
UGA has a policy known as the “Freedom of Expression Act,” designating two specific locations on campus in which students can freely express opinions through protest and uncensored dialogue without official permits.
All students agree to comply with the Freedom of Expression Act when they sign their contract to attend the university.
“As it stands, I think the speech policy is fantastic,” said Tifara Brown, who is running for president of the Student Government Association. She said she supports the Freedom of Expression Act because some displays can “trigger” students.
“Some [speech] affects students in negative ways and so it’s good for students who may not know how to handle what’s being expressed in free speech zones,” Brown said.
In March of 2015, the Young Americans for Liberty at UGA attempted to sue the university for limiting free speech to two zones on campus. The students argued that UGA’s free speech zones “limit student expression to less than 1 percent of the college’s main campus.” The lawsuit was since dropped since university officials agreed to marginally expand free speech zones.
However, newly expanded free speech zones still come with significantly more restrictions than the original free speech zones, and students must obtain permits to use the remainder of campus for free speech.
UGA’s official stance on free speech is as follows: “No rights are more highly regarded at the University of Georgia than the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the right to assemble peacefully. The University of Georgia remains firmly committed to affording every member of the University community the opportunity to engage in peaceful and orderly expression that does not significantly disrupt the operation of the University.”
UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication has placed great emphasis on the importance of freedom of expression and calls itself “Democracy’s Next Generation.” Grady College has hosted numerous forums on free speech over the past year and has taken a vocally pro-First Amendment stance.
“Everyone needs the chance to be heard, even if they are wrong,” said Jonathan Kuzy, a UGA political science major who attended French’s speech. “Otherwise, no change can happen.”