Over the past few years liberty friendly student groups around the world have been using free speech walls as a way to advocate for student rights of free expression, a freedom which is sadly lacking on many college campuses. The amazing thing is that every year we see these walls under attack from a variety of sources. Examples range from the the 2010 Pepperdine Free Speech Wall, which was torn down by a rogue student, to a professor at Sam Houston State University taking a box cutter to a wall built by SFL Campus Coordinator Morgan Freeman. There is a clear trend of physical resistance to an idea as basic and fundamental to human freedom as free speech.
Our latest example comes to us from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, where the Carleton Students For Liberty constructed a free speech wall which was torn down by a fellow student. Friend of SFL and Institute for Liberal Studies Director Janet Neilson reported on the events here. A unique aspect of this case is that the hostile student, Arun Smith, has made an open case for his action. In his words:
Actions and words can be used both to retrench and to challenge the cages, the boxes, the oppression, that we face, but something must be done in order that we might not suffer so much, so often. In organizing the “free speech wall,” the Students for Liberty have forgotten that liberty requires liberation, and this liberation is prevented by providing space for either more platitudes, or for the expression of hate.
In spite of this opposition the Carleton Students For Liberty are not backing down. The group is currently in the process of rebuilding the wall with the support of the university and the student government. SFL Campus Coordinator Ian CoKehyeng reports that a majority of the students support the free speech wall and that the main opposition comes from a vocal minority of students who are concerned with creating so-called safe spaces on campus. While this is a noble goal, as Mr. CoKehyeng responded, “there is nothing safe about censorship”.
The issues of safety and freedom are critically important, especially at universities which ostensibly are supposed to be marketplaces of ideas. As the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has studied, the spirit of censorship haunts Canadian universities. Their 2012 Campus Freedom Index measured the level of free speech at Canadian public universities and awarded only three ‘A’s’ but 28 ‘F’s’ for their policies and practices.
The libertarian student leaders have already made an impact. Hopefully this event and the Carleton SFL’s resilience will foster a dialogue on the importance of free speech at Carleton University and beyond.