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Writing 121

3 December 2017

Limiting Free Speech: Pick Your Words, Predict Their Thoughts

From the classroom to the courtyard, the debate on free speech has proliferated,

branching off into topics that challenge anything from peoples personal beliefs to the

US constitution. Universities have become a significant target of negative connotation

lately when it comes to free speech. Some say this is ironic because college is a place

to express your opinion freely, others say its not surprising because they feel that the

universities have failed in some ways to defend their students. These main ideas branch

off and grow as a conversation piece in areas where college students and politics

collide. In aid of the exponential growth of social media, this colliding point can present

itself almost anywhere and has become a more prominent issue than ever before.

Different people expect different things from universities. In a The Washington

Post website article, Abigail Hauslohner quotes a professor from San Francisco State

University in the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS), Its triggering for us

referring to certain politicians that visit her universities (Hasuslohner). As the only Arab

Muslim professor teaching in the College of Ethnic studies, the professor is often

targeted by right-wing people who disagree with her thoughts on Israel, as said by the

author of this article. This isnt hard to agree with because of her being the sole

representation of Arab Studies on that campus. She sees posters hung of her and her

students being called terrorist supporters. According to a quote from the professor,

events like the ones that ensued in Charlottesville, Virginia has led her to ask a valuable

question about the threats also presented on these posters, when does speech

become an incitement to violence? This speech, often referred to as hate speech, has

people in scrambles on what to defend. Joyce Arthur says in a Rewire article that hate

speech can be defined as, speech that disparages a person or class of persons based

on an immutable characteristic. She also says in the article that she just cannot support

that kind of thing, and I personally dont see how I could either. (Arthur) Whether it be

something as outwardly immutable like a disability or something not as recognized and

respected like a religion, I along with others dont know how to defend that kind of thing.

With peoples offensive thoughts and opinions becoming publicized on large scales and

converted into violence along with people with extremist opinions speaking at

universities, its not hard to question when these empty threats will become actual


A common problem people present when they talk about universities and their

regard to free speech is specifically who they have speak at public events. When

universities bring in political speakers or speakers who voice an openly unpopular

opinion, they are met with a lot of backlashes. Like the student quoted in the

Washington Post article, it is very triggering for some people, making them very upset

and even scared. People like this expect the university to turn away people who

specifically target groups within their student body. They want to feel safe in their

educational environment. On the other hand, universities like Columbia University say

that they allow the contestation of ideas including ones that may be offensive and even

totally against statistical and scientific findings. (Hauslohner) This raises a huge

question mark for some people, while it makes perfect sense for others as just college


While colleges being too loose in their policies with free speech is often debated,

colleges doing the total opposite are being met with criticism as well. Journalist Conor

Friedersdorf of The Atlantic voiced his opinion on an incident that occurred at Syracuse

University in 2016. There was a film conference that was put on at the university called

the International Conference on Religion & Film. A professor at the college invited a

man who had just finished a documentary about the religious settler movement in West

Bank, getting up close and personal with the lives of 400,000 Israeli Jews. While this

may seem like a perfect thing to be shown, it was shot down by one of the coordinators

of the event. She reportedly hadnt even seen the film before canceling the film makers

invitation. The woman defends herself saying that some of the students on campus may

be angered by the view of the filmmaker (Friedersdorf). This is definitely very different

from Columbia University's views on challenging their students views. Both sides of this

argument present viable reasons as to why they do what they do on the level of respect

for the university, but this shouldnt be the only element considered when deciding

which university made the right choice for their students.

When thinking about problems with free speech on college campuses, common

images may run through someone's mind. People may see anything from the Tiki

torches of Charlottesville to the offensive vandalism seen on multiple campuses. A lot of

the images and thoughts that present itself question the safety of the individuals

involved, and rightfully so.


When debating a point with somebody, the goal is to persuade another to adopt

the opinion youre arguing. This is a driving force of many protests. From the historical

Love not War protests to modern day rallies at Berkeley, everyone just wants to get

their points across. At Berkeley, there were a group of people who didnt want Milo

Yiannopoulos to speak at their university. When the university still went on with letting

him speak, the people who didnt want him the first place wreaked havoc. They set fires,

busted windows and did many other things before the guy even had a chance to step on

stage. Since then, the town has erupted in violence from both ends, seeming like no

one would be giving in soon. Some people even say its so bad that you dont even

know whos on whose side anymore, its just violence (Steinmetz). A lot of people are

trying to figure out how it got this far, and they feel the need to point fingers at each

other. The question of why this escalated so much and so quickly is a topic in the hot

seat right now.

Obviously, anger is a big competitor for what fuels the fire of violence. According

to Todd B. , a professor in the Psychology department at George Mason University,

anger is triggered by difficulty obtaining an important goal because of an externally

caused obstruction (Kashdan). In Kashdans journal, he talks about how anger is an

attempt to solve a problem, whether it is healthy or unhealthy. When someone borrows

your pencil without asking, you could handle your anger of the situations in many

different ways. You could try to get physical and fight the person, or you could ask them

why they took your pencil. Getting someone to listen to you is very important when it

comes to managing your anger.


Frustration can very annoying and it could cloud judgment. When you are trying

to talk to someone and they just arent listening, you feel like youre talking to a brick

wall; it can be very vexing. This is a common problem among almost everyone and can

be broken down through a concept called Welfare Tradeoff Ratios (WTR). In our

gregarious species, what one person does often impacts the welfare of others. So, there

is an innate choice to make as a human; how much do you focus on your welfare

versus others? This weighting can be called the Welfare Tradeoff Ratio (WTR) (Sell).

Putting forth your best effort to get someone to listen to you, only to have them not

listen, has a high chance shifting this ratio. Your WTR shifts from the other party to you

as you try to get a point across about your side. Like Sell talks about, its a possibility

that it can be taken so far that you completely lose sight of the welfare of the other party

and violence erupts as a last-ditch attempt to get a point across. In a study done by

Todd B. Kashdan, he found that when people are in a confrontation almost 50% of

people say that verbal aggression made it harder for them to control their anger.

(Kashdan) Verbal aggression is the start of the aggressive tendency of the WTR. So

statistically speaking, 1 in 2 people will are getting significantly angrier just with

increased verbal aggression. It is not hard to connect the dots between anger and

violence. It may be possible to prevent violent outbursts just by observing behavior and

the words that people say and drawing a line at what can be done and said.

Productivity in protests is very important. Getting a point across is the main goal

of most protests. Universities have attempted to be productive in keeping violence on

campus down with using things called safe spaces. According to a Salt Lake Tribune

journalist, a lot of these spaces are found in unconventional spots and go against a

large belief that college is a place to express yourself. (Vasquez) Safe spaces are

basically designated places on campus where people go to openly state their opinion

without consequence, which would seem great, except for the fact that there could be

other people there who may disagree with you and big problems arise. Also, if the point

of speaking your mind about a hush hush issue is to get more people to be accepting

of your point of view, why would you want to limit to a small group in a safe space?

While it is a good attempt at keeping the peace, it definitely has some holes like their

unconventional locations and debated purpose.

A lot of clubs on campus are notorious for being open and welcoming, its a

strategy used by many to get people to join. After interviewing a girl who was in a

mixed martial arts club at Eastern Michigan University, I learned that these clubs arent

so inclusive, and can be very offensive. It was hard for her to get a good word or opinion

in, and when she tried, she found herself being shot down pretty quickly. She and a

teammate in the club were having a conversation where the teammate was questioning

why women got their septum pierced, saying that guys didnt even find that attractive.

She replied with, thats funny because not all girls do it to be found attractive to guys.

Her coach replied with, no we're not doing this feminist shit this year. The girl

threatened to leave the MMA club, that she loved, because she felt that she wasnt able

to speak about her feelings on such a small issue openly. Especially coming from a

coach within a club sport, that kind of limiting could make anyone feel intimidated or

mad. What kind of productivity do you have when you cant speak in classrooms or

clubs? Better yet, what kind of productivity do you exert when you cant bring up an

opposing view without pissing someone off?


In conclusion, the arguments presenting in favor of free speech and against it

have very valid reasonings. Speaking your mind may seem like a nonconsequential

right, but statistics show that people speaking their mind in a verbally aggressive

increase the inability to control your anger by around 50%. It is a matter of just when a

person will snap if you dont draw a line somewhere. When you are deciding to bring in

a public speaker, whose welfare are you betting? Your students, the speaker or even

your own. Another line that must be drawn is how extreme can your speakers get until

someone burns a convention to the ground. When anger directly links to violence,

where is your line of what can be said and what cannot be said? In a social species,

words hurt. Whether a word turns into a punch or hurt feelings, they still hurt. Whether a

window is shattered or a picket sign is held high, words hurt. When violence erupts from

the wrong name calling or the wrong response to reasoning, words escalate to

something that hurts. Calling someone an irrelevant white-trash terrorist supporter takes

the productivity of an argument and throws it out of the window. When pitching out

reason and logic and replacing it with meaningless threats and angry words, youre

already treading off the path of your argument. Free speech is free speech, but if you

don't limit yourself in accordance to you and the welfare of others, then it may prove

very difficult to even be heard. Being heard on a subject is a major segway to winning

the opinions of others. If someone cant limit themselves and begin spiraling, how will

everyone elses Welfare Tradeoff Ratio reflect the safety of the people around them?


Sell, Et al. Formability and the Logic of Human Anger. National Academy of
Sciences 106 (2009): PP 15073-078. JSTOR. Web. Accessed 9 Oct. 2017.

Kashdan, Et al. What Triggers Anger in Everyday Life? Links to the Intensity,
Control, and Regulation of These Emotions, and Personality Traits. The Journal
of Personality 84 (2015): PP 737-749. Wiley Periodicals, INC. Web. Accessed 9
Oct. 2017.

Friedersdorf, Conor. How Political Correctness Chills Speech on Campus. The

Atlantic. 1 September, 2016. Web. Accessed 2 October, 2017.

Steinmetz, Katy. Fighting Words: A Battle in Berkeley Over Free Speech Time. TIME,
1 June 2017. Web. Accessed 2 October 2017.

Vasquez, Fiorella. "Commentary: Is free speech under attack at Utah colleges?"

The Salt Lake Tribune, 30 September 2017. Web. Accessed 17 October 2017

Hauslohner, Abigail. Free speech or hate speech? Campus debates over

victimhood put universities in a bind. The Washington Post, 20 October 2017.
Web. Accessed 22 October 2017.
Arthur, Joyce.The Limits of Free Speech. Rewire, 21 September 2011. Web.
Accessed 19 November 2017.