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Where One Hears Free Speech, Another Hears Hate Speech

Danielle Nanni holds up a sign while listening to speakers during a rally against hate in Berkeley, Calif., Aug. 27, 2017.
Danielle Nanni holds up a sign while listening to speakers during a rally against hate in Berkeley, Calif., Aug. 27, 2017.

College students and educators continue to struggle with balancing free speech rights on campus while keeping debate from turning violent as a new school year approaches.

In the United States, the free exchange of ideas is the bedrock of college campuses. But avoiding violence -- like the deaths of three people in Charlottesville, Virginia near the University of Virginia a year ago during a protest over race -- shows the difficulty in keeping debate from turning into a brawl.

Hate speech should not be protected, say many students.

When a speaker like Charles Murray at the University of Michigan attributes class differences in America to genetic superiority, they say a line is crossed from speech to propaganda. Ideas that have little basis in science or scholarly research shouldn’t be on the same stage as valid research, they said.

“His views on race, intelligence, and inequality are hateful and archaic," argues Isaac Whitcomb, a rising junior at American University.

“Protesters believe that hosting speakers with white nationalist views legitimize those views,” says Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, judicial affairs editor at the liberal news blog Daily Kos. “Some students feel that silence implicates them, or at least signals that they condone racism.”

Students say they know the difference between hate speech and free speech, and don’t want hate spread on campus. A 2016 Gallup poll found that nearly 70 percent of students said they believed universities should restrict speech that was “intentionally offensive to certain groups.”

And among the 1,500 undergraduate students surveyed by the Brookings Institution in August 2017, 51 percent thought it was fine to loudly and repeatedly disrupt a “very controversial speaker” ... “so the audience cannot hear him or her.”

A supporter of white nationalist Richard Spencer, center in white shirt, tries to cover up as he clashes with the crowd after a speech by Spencer, Oct. 19, 2017, at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
A supporter of white nationalist Richard Spencer, center in white shirt, tries to cover up as he clashes with the crowd after a speech by Spencer, Oct. 19, 2017, at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

On some campuses, officials have tried to maintain the peace by creating “free speech zones,” designated for unrestricted speech - some inside fences. Los Angeles Pierce College, Ohio University, Wichita State University, Modesto Junior College are a few schools to establish those zones.

Outside the “free speech zones,” those discussions and activities are prohibited. The legality of these zones has been questioned.

In "University of Cincinnati Chapter for Young Americans v. Williams," the federal district court ruled that the university’s free speech zone, which was less than .01 percent of the entire campus, was in violation of the First Amendment. The court found the university failed to demonstrate a compelling interest in justifying the exclusion of free speech activities from other areas on campus.

The southern state of Georgia in May became the 10th state to pass legislation outlawing free speech zones on college campuses. The other states are Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Tennessee.

Donald Trump supporter Arthur Schaper, center, argues opposing views during a free speech rally, Aug. 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif.
Donald Trump supporter Arthur Schaper, center, argues opposing views during a free speech rally, Aug. 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif.

On the other side is the call for unrestrained freedom of speech on college campuses.

"There are absolutists …who argue freedom of speech is the cornerstone of our democracy," said Mary Beth Leidman, a professor of communications media and media law at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, referring to the advocacy rights group American Civil Liberties Union and the late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. They have advocated that "the absolute freedom of speech must be protected absolutely,” Leidman said.

Lost in the discussion about unfettered freedom of speech is the 1977 Supreme Court decision, "National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie." The nationalist party promoted a Nazi and anti-Semitic platform, and despite attempts by Skokie, Illinois, to restrict the group, the court ruled it could march in the predominately Jewish town, north of Chicago. All speech is free speech, the court ruled.

Many people are unaware of that decision, says Howard Gillman, chancellor of the University of California-Irvine, because, “Not a lot of civics teaching [is] going on in high school,” or students would know that hate speech is protected under the First Amendment.

There are exceptions to First Amendment protections. Libel, or false statements that injure a person’s reputation, is an exception. Incitement, which is speech that intentionally advocates imminent lawlessness, is another caveat.

“For example, talking to an enraged mob outside a building an urging them to burn it down. That would be punishable,” says Volokh.

A supporter of white nationalist Richard Spencer grabs ahold of a protester's tie during a clash after a speech by Spencer, Oct. 19, 2017, at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla.
A supporter of white nationalist Richard Spencer grabs ahold of a protester's tie during a clash after a speech by Spencer, Oct. 19, 2017, at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla.

But hate speech isn’t measured only as a constitutional issue.

“Hate speech can make you feel threatened of your existence,” Alejandrina Guzman, student government president at University of Texas-Austin. “When you already feel that you don’t have adequate resources or have the adequate personnel on campus to navigate those conversations, it’s threatening.”

Following events in which a campus speaker negatively impacts certain students, “administrators need to provide official platforms to show they care,” Guzman says.

Universities find themselves in a tough place when a campus speaker is found offensive by some students. Any condemnation made by the university runs the risk of alienating a part of its student body.

“Universities should only speak out when the core values of their institution are threatened,” Gillman advises.

Stephen Hayes, editor in chief of The Weekly Standard, says curbing any speech goes in the wrong direction. “More speech is the best antidote to hate speech,” he says.

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Senator draws attention to universities that haven’t returned remains

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, speaks with reporters as he walks to a vote on Capitol Hill, Sept. 6, 2023 in Washington.
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, speaks with reporters as he walks to a vote on Capitol Hill, Sept. 6, 2023 in Washington.

More than 70 U.S. universities continue to hold human remains taken from Native American burial sites, although those remains were supposed to be returned 30 years ago.

Jennifer Bendery writes in Huffington Post that one senator has been using his position in an attempt to shame universities into returning remains and artifacts. (April 2024)

COVID forced one international student to go hungry

FILE - Masked students walk to the COVID-19 vaccination site at the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium on the Jackson State University campus in Jackson, Miss., July 27, 2021.
FILE - Masked students walk to the COVID-19 vaccination site at the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium on the Jackson State University campus in Jackson, Miss., July 27, 2021.

When Samantha (not her real name) enrolled in community college in the U.S., her family at home in South Africa scrimped and saved to support her.

But the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the family’s finances, and at one point Samantha had four on-campus jobs just to make ends meet. Many in the U.S. believe international students are wealthy sources of funding for universities, but stories like Samantha’s suggest otherwise.

Andrea Gutierrez reports for The World. (March 2024)

Tips for paying for a STEM degree as an international student

FILE - FILE - A visitor to the 21st China Beijing International High-tech Expo looks at a computer chip through the microscope displayed by the Tsinghua Unigroup project in Beijing, on May 17, 2018.
FILE - FILE - A visitor to the 21st China Beijing International High-tech Expo looks at a computer chip through the microscope displayed by the Tsinghua Unigroup project in Beijing, on May 17, 2018.

For US News & World Report, Melanie Lockert describes how to calculate the cost of a STEM degree, and where to find funding. (March 2024)

NAIA all but bans its transgender college athletes from women's sports

FILE - NAIA women’s basketball players gather after a game in St. Louis, Feb. 22, 2024. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, said Monday that transgender athletes would be all but banned from women's sports.
FILE - NAIA women’s basketball players gather after a game in St. Louis, Feb. 22, 2024. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, said Monday that transgender athletes would be all but banned from women's sports.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, announced a policy Monday that all but bans transgender athletes from competing in women's sports.

The NAIA's Council of Presidents approved the policy in a 20-0 vote. The NAIA, which oversees some 83,000 athletes at schools across the country, is believed to be the first college sports organization to take such a step.

According to the transgender participation policy, all athletes may participate in NAIA-sponsored male sports but only athletes whose biological sex assigned at birth is female and have not begun hormone therapy will be allowed to participate in women's sports.

A student who has begun hormone therapy may participate in activities such as workouts, practices and team activities, but not in interscholastic competition.

"With the exception of competitive cheer and competitive dance, the NAIA created separate categories for male and female participants," the NAIA said. "Each NAIA sport includes some combination of strength, speed and stamina, providing competitive advantages for male student-athletes. As a result, the NAIA policy for transgender student-athletes applies to all sports except for competitive cheer and competitive dance, which are open to all students."

There is no known number of transgender athletes at the high school and college levels, though it is believed to be small. The topic has become a hot-button issue for those for and against transgender athletes competing on girls' and women's sports teams.

At least 24 states have laws barring transgender women and girls from competing in certain women's or girls sports competitions. Last month, more than a dozen current and former college athletes filed a federal lawsuit against the NCAA, accusing the sports governing body for more than 500,000 athletes of violating their rights by allowing transgender women to compete in women's sports.

The Biden administration originally planned to release a new federal Title IX rule — the law forbids discrimination based on sex in education — addressing both campus sexual assault and transgender athletes. But earlier this year, the department decided to split them into separate rules, and the athletics rule now remains in limbo even as the sexual assault policy moves forward.

Hours after the NAIA announcement, the NCAA released a statement: "College sports are the premier stage for women's sports in America and the NCAA will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women's sports and ensure fair competition for all student-athletes in all NCAA championships."

The NCAA has had a policy for transgender athlete participation in place since 2010, which called for one year of testosterone suppression treatment and documented testosterone levels submitted before championship competitions. In 2022, the NCAA revised its policies on transgender athlete participation in an attempt to align with national sport governing bodies, following the lead of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

The three-phase implementation of the policy included a continuation of the 2010 policy, requiring transgender women to be on hormone replacement therapy for at least one year, plus the submission of a hormone-level test before the start of both the regular season and championship events.

The third phase adds national and international sport governing body standards to the NCAA's policy and is scheduled to be implemented for the 2024-25 school year on August 1.

There are some 15.3 million public high school students in the United States and a 2019 study by the CDC estimated 1.8% of them — about 275,000 — are transgender. The number of athletes within that group is much smaller; a 2017 survey by Human Rights Campaign suggested fewer than 15% of all transgender boys and transgender girls play sports.

The number of NAIA transgender athletes would be far smaller.

Humanities degrees are tougher sell for international students 

FILE - People walk near the campus center at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., Dec. 9, 2013.
FILE - People walk near the campus center at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., Dec. 9, 2013.

That’s the argument of one Princeton undergraduate from South Korea.

OPT, the government program that allows college students to work in the US for a short time after graduation without securing a work visa, is biased toward STEM degree holders.

As a result, many international students forego humanities, or choose tech or consulting jobs when their passions lie elsewhere.

Read Siyeon Lee’s argument in the Princetonian. (March 2024)

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