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May 06 2017
by Morgan Rowe

The Pros and Cons of Free Speech on College Campuses

By Morgan Rowe - May 06 2017

Free speech on university campuses has been a highly contentious issue over the past few years. One of the most recent instances occurred at American University this past week. Bananas were hung on nooses all over the DC campus on Monday, with comments ranging from “AKA FREE” (in reference to Alpha Kappa Alpha, the predominately black sorority on campus) to “HARAMBE BAIT." This act came in response to the election of the University’s first black and female student government president. The messages were very specific, and even the FBI has gotten involved to find the perpetrators of the hate crime.

This incident brings back the discussion about free speech on college campuses and how to allow free speech while at the same time being able to punish hate speech. So with that in mind, here are the pros and cons of allowing for completely free speech on college campuses.


1. Free speech allows for more academic diversity.

It has been noted that many college campuses have become echo chambers for like-minded individuals to continue to believe what they believe without facing any difference of thought. It is unfortunate that this type of “ideological uniformity promotes group think and the uncritical adoption of more extreme views.” Diversity should be encouraged in every area, whether those areas are race, gender, sexuality or ideology.

2. Free speech allows for discussion surrounding controversial issues.

What happened at American was terrible, but it also got students and professors talking about the racism that continues to plague the campus. Without this kind of controversy, college students might continue to live in a bubble that doesn’t acknowledge that there are other opinions besides their own that might exist. And those opinions, as hard as it may be to concede, may be just as valid.

3. Regulation unfortunately won't stop hate.

Just because something is regulated, does not mean that it will disappear completely. Just look at any crime committed in America. As the saying goes, “Rules were made to be broken.” Cracking down on free speech on university campuses will not stop it from happening; it might even make those who partake in more hateful versions of free speech feel more vindicated.


1. Free speech also welcomes hate speech.

Free speech and hate speech are not always so obviously distinguished, which is why when allowing for all forms of free speech on college campuses, you are also acknowledging that hate speech can also be part of the package. You can rarely have one without the other, whether it is in the media, in newspapers or in academia. So universities either need to put restrictions on speech or allow every single type, regardless of how offensive they may find it.

2. Universities might be liable for damages.

Though it is not always the case, a lack of hard-lining on hate speech may make the speech turn into something more serious. In the recent American University incident, not only is the FBI involved, but the University’s Department of Public Safety is also investigating the incident. Students are criticizing even this response from the University because they believe that the University is not doing enough. Some students believe that the administration has not been taking their concerns seriously, but there isn’t much more to be done. However, if universities had a policy that cracked down harder on free speech, then they might be able to do more.

Over all, free speech is an important American right. There will always be a price to pay for freedoms, and the existence of hate speech is one of them. But slight censorship could be the starting point for even more restriction on college campuses, and even though there needs to be some response when something like the banana incident occurs, free speech should not be choked out. 

Lead Image Credit: Newtown Graffiti via Flickr Creative Commons

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Morgan Rowe - Temple University

Morgan Rowe is a Freshman Political Science and English major at Temple University. In high school, she was captain of the Speech and Debate Team. She hopes to one day be a lawyer, and her dream dog is a boxer named Butch. When not writing, Morgan enjoys perusing dank memes, binge watching Netflix, and taking her coffee black.

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