WATCH: This conservative student is fighting for free speech on campus

Campus Reform Reporter Alexa Schwerha spoke with University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee student Aidan Shank about how he defends free speech on campus.

Campus Reform Reporter Alexa Schwerha sat down to discuss the importance of free speech on college campuses with University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee junior Aidan Shank.

Shank is also a Campus Reform Correspondent

Earlier this semester, Shank participated in a panel hosted by the University of Wisconsin’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office on navigating free speech. 

According to Shank, one major topic discussed in the panel was the handling of hate speech. 

Shank stated that he was the sole panelist to have an “absolutist idea of what free speech is,” however the conversation remained respectful and productive.

”Free speech is something that I feel very passionate about,” Shank said. “It’s something that the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee had somewhat of a history with. We’ve eradicated all of the bad policies that were blatant infringements on First Amendment rights, especially at a public university.”

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the UW- Milwaukee currently has a yellow light speech code rating. Yellow light ratings are given to institutions that have “at least one ambiguous policy” that may infringe on the First amendment.

The panel allowed participants to share their own experiences regarding speech on campus. Shank made it his mission to communicate that even though hate does exist, it allows for a conversation to be held to “directly address the hate that exists in the world.”

Shank noted that while speech can have the potential to be hurtful, it is important to uplift more speech in order to “have an opportunity to fight back against things that everybody can agree on as hateful.”

His stance apparently broke through to some audience members, as Shank recalled students admitting that they had heard arguments that they hadn’t previously considered before the panel. 

”I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to make sure that they at least know a little bit more about why conservatives feel so strongly about free speech and why we know it is an important right that we have,” Shank said.

He also said he was impressed by the “openness” of the audience.

”You can’t change minds in two hours,” Shank admitted. “But [students] are definitely thinking more critically about why we have this right in America.”

Shank then offered his own thoughts on how colleges and universities can uphold a better commitment to freedom of speech and First Amendment rights. 

First, students should be encouraged to have conversations about the First Amendment and be exposed to different ideas. Universities should also be held accountable for laying the foreground for free speech.

Students should “know that our rights that were outlined are God-given rights in the Constitution that were outlined by our founding fathers are still relevant today,” Shank said. 

Follow @Alexaschwerha1 on Twitter