Freedom of speech is one aspect of the First Amendment that frequently plays itself into controversy within the country. There has been a longstanding debate on what constitutes as fair or unfair in several different cases regarding the issue.
A specific forum that has been targeted are college campuses. Response to prior events on college campuses have brought forth questions on whether or not a college can be regarded as a completely public forum.
Technically, a public school is considered to be a public forum, but it does hold its limitations in some cases. These limitations are a result of the reactions universities have felt.
A vital reason, and the most important one amongst the need for limitations, is the concern for public safety. Several protests at college campuses have resulted in violence, including a significant amount during 2017.
When an controversial issue or speaker is introduced and given access to campus, university and community officials have to weigh out certain factors of what is in the best interest for the affected body of individuals.
Taurian Guyton, an Ingham County business owner, believes we are in a time where “people are trying to be fair and people are trying to let everyone’s voice be heard.”
There are several questions that get raised when making those decisions to allow controversial people speak, in which Guyton believes are hard to assess.
“Did they pounce on someone else’s opinions or assertions, is the forum even going to be where it’s open or there’s dialogue, is it going to be a one sided viewpoint, said Guyton. ”Then if you’re going to arrest and things like that … is it valid, is it really helping what’s going on right there, is it going to incite more violence, once again how is it impacting the school as a whole because the school is supposed to be a positive shining beacon for the community at large.”
In the past, there have been multiple incidents of reported violence, as well as multiple instances where universities have denied access to people who wish to speak on campuses, accounting for the risk of the violence that could potentially occur.
Several schools have protested against public speakers in 2017, ranging from politicians, authors, white nationalists, and members of particular media. Some of those schools include the University of Florida, UC Berkeley, and the University of Auburn.
Last year, the University of Wisconsin decided to announce discipline to students who would violently disrupt any potential speakers on campus. According to their school website, the board of regents states that a student who is found guilty of misconduct “that materially and substantially disrupted the free expression of others at any time during the student’s enrollment shall be suspended for a minimum of one semester,” and a third time could expel a student.
Richard Spencer is a white nationalist who has been a main subject on the issue. He has been going on a university tour, and has faced even more controversy because of the violence that has occurred at his speeches.
In his visit to the University of Florida, Spencer reportedly said, “Nazis don’t have a right to free speech, really, so you don’t believe in free speech at all do you?” His comment responded to a member of the audience.
Ingham County resident Derek McKim believes that the difference between the power of freedom of speech from other minority groups compared to movement Spencer is a part of, comes from the idea that most of the time other groups are fighting for equality, while Spencer and “the alt-right or whatever you want to call them” are fighting for more power.
On March 5, Spencer continued his tour into Ingham County, on Michigan State’s campus. The decision to allow him on campus to speak was made by former Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon. The date was picked over Michigan State’s spring break week, which was possibly done to avoid any potential violence.
Similar to other Spencer events, there was violence on MSU’s campus that week from the event.
“His speech is hatred and brings out violence in people,” said McKim. “I’m just saddened by how the situation turned out.”
Guyton also was not pleased with the decision to have a controversial figure such as Spencer speak in his county, and raised more questions to the matter.
“It’s sad to me, I feel that, you need to look at … the culture, the county, everything as a whole and is that going to negatively impact our climate here,” said Guyton. “Is it going to create unrest here, is it going to spur more violence more frustration?”
McKim was “more disappointed than anything” that it took place right here in Ingham County, but was happy that Spencer was turned down shortly after the protests in Charlottesville “because more people were hot about the issue than now.”
It is apparent that some members of Ingham County still value the right of free speech, even if it is insulting.
“You can’t deny somebody’s free speech,” said McKim. “I think there’s more bad coming out for MSU not allowing him to speak than allowing him to speak.”
“If somebody is saying something negative towards me, I try to evaluate why, I would ask those kind of questions…because maybe it’s something that could change…..because without that dialogue everybody is going to be ignorant in this circle of frustration,“ said Guyton.