The power of free speech and student platforms

Ana López, Managing Editor

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“If we agree that this exposure to difference is beneficial in our community then we must also agree that the access to spaces where ideas and opinions can interact in a safe way is of utmost importance.”

– Ana López (‘19)

Given the current political climate in the United States, discussions surrounding issues of freedom inevitably arise. As we print the first issue of Chips, I think it is important to reflect on the privilege that exercising freedom of speech represents.

The first amendment, for example, protects the existence of student publications like Chips:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (U.S. Constitution)

Freedom of speech makes it possible for the pieces of paper that you are holding in your hands to be the first issue of the Vol. 141 of a publication that has been run by students since 1884. It provides our community with spaces like the pages of Chips to have our voices heard. It is this privilege that sets us in a prime spot to seek truth. 

In this sense, I think the opinion section is vital to our publication, as it gives an open platform for anyone in the community to engage in public conversations about a wide variety of topics. I would love to see pages nine and ten of Chips as a space where all voices can meaningfully engage in difficult conversations. The opinion section not only is a space where opinions can be published and shared but also a platform where civil discussions and debates can take place.

It was along these lines that the philosopher John Stuart Mill defended free speech in his work “On Liberty.” Mill claims that it is the open access to all sorts of ideas that brings us closer to the truth. Although this freedom has its limitations (maybe more than what Mill is willing to grant), Mill’s ideas resonate with much of the conversations we have been having on our campus.

The hate incidents that took place during the 2017-18 academic year sparked conversations in our community about the meaning of inclusion and the importance of interacting with diverse people, ideas, and places, among other things.

Facing the unfamiliar forces us to revisit our own ideas and conceptions. It forces us to acknowledge our own individual standpoints and evaluate them. This evaluation forces us to continue our quest for the truth. If we agree that this exposure to difference is beneficial in our community then we must also agree that the access to spaces where ideas and opinions can interact in a safe way is of utmost importance.

As a result, I suggest that the opinion section of this paper serve as a platform for civil discourse but that it must not, in any case, be the only space where this can happen. Recognizing that freedom of speech is a privilege that the members of our community have and is not necessarily present in other places also highlights the fact that this privilege carries responsibilities.

Free speech, and the fact that our speech is protected, is a very powerful tool to call for justice, enter conversations about important matters, and, most importantly, to use our voices to ask for fair representation, accountability, and integrity from the institutions, groups, and bodies that represent us as a community. And that includes keeping this very publication accountable and faithful to the standards of journalistic integrity.

Welcome to the opinion section. Let’s start talking.

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