This past month, the Richmond College Student Government Association and Westhampton College Goverment Association began a movement to create a free speech policy at the University of Richmond.
On Nov. 16, that free speech resolution will be discussed by the Faculty Senate. An opinion piece published in The Collegian on Nov. 5 states that there has been discussion among faculty that the effort may be partisan in nature.
The UR College Democrats and College Republicans reject that this is a partisan issue and are endorsing the resolution to defend speech protected by the First Amendment on campus.
Our two clubs are political in nature, and free speech is essential for the existence of both of them. The university has a policy on preventing discrimination and harassment on campus, but this does not comment on free speech generally. When it comes to political events, it is important to protect students' right to advocate for their beliefs, even if the administration disagrees with their views or those views make some uncomfortable.
Speech that incites violence or discriminates should not be protected by the university, and neither the College Republicans nor College Democrats are advocating for this to be protected. But by the very nature of our clubs, we advocate for issues that can be divisive. A free speech policy reaffirming that speech protected by the First Amendment is also protected by the university will ensure that our students and organization members are not afraid of voicing their opinions, and that our organizations can reach their full potential: finding truth through the promotion of diversity of thought.
As an institution of higher learning whose very fiber of its being rests in its freedom of expression, this school has a duty to uphold the principles of free speech. Freedom of expression is the only tool a university such as ours has to search for truth in its many forms. It is the candle in a room with no light. It is the only way in which a university can exist. The great ideas that have come from our universities come from outside normally accepted views. That is what makes them great — the fact that they are what no one has thought before. These new ideas can come only from freedom of expression.
This is not meant to be a platitude. This is our role and duty as university community members. This is the life we choose and embrace by coming to a liberal arts college. If we, as members of the university’s community, close what has been called the “Overton window” and cut off ideas that do not question our beliefs, we will cease to be a university. With this window closed and without freedom of expression, we become no more than a partisan think tank with the guise of ideological indifference. We will have ideas, but those ideas will only be run through the ideological bent of our schemas and beliefs. If UR's purpose is to find truth, restricting the scope of that search will do nothing but create a stumbling block for us.
In our search for truth, we may stumble over ideas that challenge us or that we reject, but that is no reason to shy away from the search. Rather, it is reason to embolden ourselves and find those few great truths that enhance life. In our search, what is the worst we will find? Truth, and with truth may come a burden that what we find may not fit into our beliefs and ideologies, but that is the life we choose at a university.
Our university is not perfect. However, it is only through difficult, open and honest discussions about our future that we will find the right path for ourselves. The absence of a clear policy protecting free speech is not this path. We urge the Faculty Senate, as well as the university at large, to accept the free speech resolution.
Contact Robert Ostrom, the president of the University of Richmond College Democrats, at email@example.com. Contact Mason Zadan, chair of the University of Richmond College Republicans, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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