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The Campus Conundrum: Understanding the free speech we hate

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The St. Cloud State University School of Public Affairs hosted an event Wednesday afternoon in the Atwood Theatre discussing issues regarding the First Amendment on college campuses.

Political Science professor Kathy Uradnik and assistant to the Interim President, Judith Siminoe, took the stage to discuss the issue because of their strong background in constitutional law.

The talk began with listing the basic rights the First Amendment provides to all Americans as it is debated frequently on college campuses.

According to the SCSU Code of Conduct, there are five free speech spaces on campus where students and members of the general public can go and express their opinions on various issues.

These free speech areas include designated areas around the Atwood and Stewart Hall area, southwest plaza near the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, and the Atwood Plaza.

“Since St. Cloud State is a public university, anyone can come onto campus and express an opinion. Even though the university is an institution of the government, it has to protect the students’ rights that protect them from the government,” said Professor Uradnik.

While the two did discuss that public colleges and universities are protected free speech zones, there are some rules that apply and the schools can come down hard on students for violating certain speech issues, according to the Code of Conduct.

For example, any repeated speech made towards a specific group or individual that is hateful and harmful to the student’s education.

“My job is to ensure that all students have free speech rights on campus, but if these kinds of instances happen and if they interfere with a student’s learning, we will step in and resolve the issue,” Professor Uradnik said.

Another issue on the debate of college campus free speech are “safe spaces.” There are a large number of students on college campuses that believe certain types of speech and political philosophies should be banned in their collegiate community because they believe these views  cause microaggressions and other forms of hate.

Tony Ruppert, a senior and political science and international relations major at SCSU, thinks that safe spaces are important, but understands how that might violate the Constitution in some ways.

“It’s a tough question to answer. I believe personally that safe spaces are trying to do right, but there is some controversy involved [in] whether or not students should have the option to not take in opposing viewpoints,” Ruppert said.

Devon Smith is a fifth-year student at SCSU said his opinion on safe spaces is nuanced.

“I think it is an important utility and should be available. However, the campus as a whole should not have to participate,” Smith said. “It’s more important to have some place like a professor’s office where they can talk about their specific issues and not feel judged.”

SCSU is not the only university that is debating this First Amendment frenzy; all public colleges and universities have been dealing with this for the last few years as certain speakers and demonstrators were disinvited by students to speak at their institution of higher learning because they were deemed “offensive” by a large portion of the student body.

Some of these high-profile names include former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who was supposed to give a commencement speech at Rutgers University in New Jersey before she was banned by the student body for her involvement in the Iraq War.

Action Bronson, a famous rap artist, has been banned from performing on several college campuses across the country for his “misogynistic lyrics.”

“I think that St. Cloud State does a good job when it comes letting students express their opinions,” Professor Uradnik said. “The university had only one protest that got a little out of hand, but that was many years ago.”

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