Free Speech On College Campuses Essays

Thesis Statement:

             The prohibition of hate-speech or any speech which constitutes a “clear and present danger” to students on college campuses is a good and necessary policy.

Summary of Opinions:

            The issue of free-speech on college campuses poses a complex debate. Key factors of the controversy include: the rights to personal safety and free expression, as well as factors of racial and gender tolerance. The volatile nature of the issue ensures adjudication at the highest levels and also a far-reaching historical set of precedents, none of which has successfully “answered” the issues of free-speech and civic welfare. It seems prudent that the US Constitution should provide the framework by which all policies of free-speech are reckoned. “The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, in part, that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” This freedom is deemed a fundamental right, because it assures individual self-fulfillment or autonomy,” (Zingo 17) .

            Zingo discusses how the 1st amendment serves many interests: “it is a means of advancing knowledge and searching for truth;  it gives all members of society an opportunity to participate in the political process of self-governance;  and it provides a safety valve for society[…] because suppression of discussion is injurious to society.” (Zingo) With that in mind, it is also useful to peruse counter-arguments which posit a more modernist interpretation of the First Amendment. “Media-law experts attempt to impose the eighteenth-century ideals of freedom of speech and press on the modern world as if no changes have taken place. Today, First Amendment doctrine assumes that governmental censorship still poses a greater and more real threat to our rational self-governing ideal than self-gratification,” (Collins, and Skover 25).

             However, the Constitutional and judicial basis for restrictions on free speech stands far aside from this contention: “the Supreme Court ruled on a case challenging speech regulation[…] question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree,” (Zingo 18).

Questions and Rhetorical Strategies

Key questions:

1) What constitutes “clear and present danger?”

2) What are methods for enforcing legislation.

3) How have prior Supreme Court first amendment cases been decided?

4) How to define a hate-crime.

Rhetorical strategies:

                To convince that racism, sexism, and hate-crimes constitute a “clear and present danger” to students on college campuses will require evidence and citation from legal opinions and legal precedent. The “hate-crime” according to preliminary research seems to be a well-established fact, backed by substantive evidence and scientific study. “Despite the tremendous strides resulting from civil rights legislation, racism remains one of the most pressing social problems in the US[…]

Hate crimes have been prominent on university campuses for the last two decades but vary widely in their targets and severity.” (Marcus et al.) Whether or not a college chooses to restrict the freedom of speech based on the Constitutional premise of “clear and present danger” there is a question as to whether or not prohibition of  discriminatory speech, alone, will curtail racist and discriminatory practices. “In recent years, attempts to curtail racially discriminatory activities have focused largely on speech codes to limit inflammatory presentations (Altman, 1993) but these attempts have not been well received.” (Marcus et al.)


            I believe that prohibition of hate-speech or any speech which constitutes a “clear and present danger” to students is an important issue for all citizens, but especially to those who may be impacted directly by hate-crimes. Most minority students wqill probably be sympathetic to my thesis while “conservatives” will see it as an infringement of civil rights. Ironically, liberals may also view it this way, or even more ironically they may not view it this way and in so doing, they will have become sympathetic to a restraining of free-speech.


Collins, Ronald K. L., and David M. Skover. The Death of Discourse. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996.

Marcus, Ann, et al. “Perceptions of Racism on Campus.” College Student Journal 37.4 (2003): 611+.

Zingo, Martha T. Sex/Gender Outsiders, Hate Speech, and Freedom of Expression: Can They Say That about Me?. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998.

Jacobs, James B., and Kimberly Potter. Hate Crimes Criminal Law & Identity Politics. Oxford:             Oxford University Press, 2001.

Free speech is a massive step in human civilization. The ability to say something without fear of persecution and/or death is a big step in human society and is something that only around fifty countries have. My essay is about free speech in US colleges and how it is rapidly declining at a frightening rate.

In the case of Sweezy vs. New Hampshire in 1957 the Supreme Court said, “Teachers and students must always remain free to enquire, otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.” Many would agree with that statement and consider it true, but in modern US colleges there is a massive restriction on free speech to the point where the comment made by the Supreme Court no longer applies in some places in the US. The US colleges are literally removing free speech from our futures by stamping it out in through what they teach younger people.

In 2010, there was a study by the Association of American colleges and universities. They found that over 70% of college students found it unsafe to hold unpopular positions on campus. This means they may have had opinions and thoughts about issues, but they did not feel safe expressing their thoughts in college.

Another troubling element of the 2010 is that the longer the student spends in the college, the less safe he or she feels about holding and expressing unpopular opinions. If we were to blame outside influences, then students would enter and leave college either as safe or unsafe as they like. However, it is clear that the longer a student spends in college, then the more restricted and repressed his or her freedom of speech is. The freshmen students feel safer using their freedom of speech, but they begin to feel less safe as they move through college.

To clarify, the feeling of safety is safety from repercussions and not from physical harm. The students feel safe from harm in college, but they do not feel safe from the penalization from professors. They feel uneasy about expressing their unpopular positions or opinions within their work and dissertations, and they do not feel as if they are free to speak their true feelings and opinions because they fear they will be marked down and/or looked upon unfavorably by the people that control their grades and ability to get their qualifications.

What is more worrying is the fact that colleges and universities in the US are blatantly restricting student’s freedom of speech. They claim they do it to help avoid people getting offended, which further proves the point that freedom of speech is less important to these colleges that the fear of people being offended. To cast freedom of speech aside for any reason, noble or not, is to shatter its very foundation and urinate in the faces of the people that died for it.

Speech codes are a common and blatant sign that students are having their freedom of speech restricted. The colleges and universities are not even hiding the fact that their speech codes are regulations that limit or bans expression. It literally says that in their regulations.


The first amendment in the US constitution states implicitly that people are allowed to speak and write what they wish, and yet colleges and universities are disregarding it when they set use speech codes. Yet, what is it that colleges are protecting students from? If it were from people writing instructions on how to build a bomb, then one could argue that the protection of life is more important than freedom of speech.

Yet, all of the speech codes in US colleges and universities are there to stop people writing or saying things that the college/university in question feels are offensive. They usually revolve around religion or political views. Colleges and universities in the US are banning students from speaking, writing and even holding opinions that contradict what the college likes, and that is a blatant middle finger to a US citizen’s freedom of speech.

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