At UF, squelching conservative speech is routine (OPINION)
- At the University of Florida, it's par for the course for conservative speech to be censored or silenced.
- Various examples, as reported by Campus Reform, support this idea.
It’s no secret that conservative students at campuses across the country face censorship, intolerance, and speech suppression. It's no different for right-wing students attending the University of Florida (UF). Reaction to the election of President Donald Trump only worsened the state of free speech at UF, as radical leftist students have become emboldened to stop any form of speech that aligns with the policies of his administration--even if it involves breaking the law.
Several weeks ago, UF's Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter, of which I'm a member, created a “Build the Wall” banner to hang on campus. As a club, we had to get a permit from UF for the banner and our members spent a significant amount of time and money creating it. In a matter of hours, the banner was torn down and stolen by leftists. That evening, the club met to build a new one, only to have it stolen twice the next day.
In all, three police reports were filed, and an officer indicated one student could be charged with theft. Thanks to the efforts of our club members, our speech was protected, but at a hefty price. Guarding a banner for 12 hours a day and having cameras present shouldn’t be a requirement to ensuring speech is protected. In many cases, it’s not even feasible.
Last week, the Turning Point USA chapter at UF hosted Prager U. spokesman Will Witt. A few days before his speech, I posted flyers around campus from 9 p.m. until midnight. The next morning by 9 a.m., nearly all of the flyers I posted were gone. Other club members confirmed this happened to them, as well.
This is routine for conservative organizations at UF. Leftist students tear down conservative signs, posters, and flyers promoting speakers with whom they disagree. It shows a blatant disregard for our First Amendment rights and for the amount of resources our clubs put into activism.
Instead of simply choosing not to attend a conservative event, these students seek to steal and destroy any advertisements for our events. They have always been welcome to respectfully protest our activism or to debate us on the merits of conservative ideas, but these radical leftist students have no interest in debate or discourse. It’s clear they are fearful of the message we are trying to spread. Last week, they even created fake flyers announcing a room change for the Witt speech in hopes that attendees would mistakenly arrive at the wrong location.
UF conservatives aren’t helped by the administration, either. Last year, as notorious alt-right activist Richard Spencer planned a speech on campus and with the national media watching, UF President Kent Fuchs had a chance to condemn Spencer and also defend his right to speak. He didn’t. Instead, he lamented that UF was required by law to uphold speech, and even said he was “shocked” and “surprised” that a public university must protect the First Amendment.
If the highest ranking UF employee on campus can’t defend free speech, then who will?
It certainly won't be UF student government (SG). UF SG recently added arbitrary regulations that keep certain student organizations off the budget, which is one of the largest in the country at $20 million. Despite UF YAF’s attempts to be a budgeted organization, UF SG subjectively designated YAF a non-budgeted organization, meaning YAF must petition requests for funding each time the club would like to hold an event. These subjective standards also prevent non-budgeted student organizations from using petitioned funds towards a guest speaker’s honoraria, while budgeted organizations are able to do this.
YAF is now suing UF, as it’s clear these absurd regulations are designed to target conservative organizations like YAF.
Another front where conservative students at UF have attempted to have a voice is at the student newspaper, the Independent Florida Alligator. The paper pretends to encourage opposing viewpoints, but behind the scenes, its management tells a different story.
On several occasions during my time as a columnist, I was told my columns wouldn’t be published unless I added or changed sources, even though the same standards didn’t apply to left-leaning columns or the paper’s own editorial board, which often made (and still makes) bizarre and unprovable claims about Republican politicians.
Despite the fact that my column topics were almost always pre-approved, editors repeatedly deceived me with a myriad of excuses, usually at the last minute, as to why my column could not be published. On one occasion, I was sent edits for my column an hour after the paper typically prints, even though my draft had been submitted days before.
The Alligator didn’t care about editing my work. It was a ruse. This behavior also always came after my column was written and not before, when I was seeking topic approval. This left me no other choice than to believe I was censored because of the content in my column.
Luckily, as a business major, I haven’t dealt with overtly political or liberal professors. However, my peers in majors such as political science, history, and journalism have told me they fear speaking out against liberal bias in the classroom for fear of retribution.
Several of my peers have also said they are fearful to admit or discuss their conservative views in other campus or social settings. I, too, am guilty of this. Instead of telling individuals I have to go to a YAF or Turning Point meeting, I sometimes lie and come up with an excuse, so as not to give away my political affiliations.
None of this should be happening, but it is -- and it’s happening on campuses across America. Any of these forms of censorship would be alarming enough on their own, so the fact that all of this can occur on one campus indicates that the lack of free speech on campus is, in fact, a crisis.
A generation of Americans is being taught that it’s acceptable to react violently and break laws to stop speech from an opposing viewpoint. They are being taught that intolerance and censorship are acceptable. What happens when these students graduate, enter the workforce, and join new communities across the country? Will their intolerance and embrace of censorship follow?
Conservative students have been fighting for their First Amendment rights on campus for years. It’s time for Americans of all political stripes, from our politicians to our fellow citizens, to join the cause in protecting freedom of speech.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @eduneret