What is free speech?

Student protests kindle heated debates


MCT Photo

Demonstrators at the University of Missouri prevent media from entering on Nov. 9. The developing student activism over the past few months has raised questions on the nature of free speech. The gray area between free speech and offensive comments has frequently been challenged.

Adhiti Chundur, Beat Editor

The concept of free speech is one of the cornerstones of the United States’ democracy.
The line between free speech and offensive or racist comments has come into question after student protests at Yale University and the University of Missouri.
The protests at Yale started with a mass email sent by the Intercultural Affairs Council, which asked students to “consider their costumes and the impact [they] may have…[avoid] feathered headdresses, turbans, wearing ‘war paint’ or modifying skin tone or wearing black-face or red face.”
This email triggered a response from Erika Christakis, a child development researcher. She sent an email that urged students to either look the other way, or talk to each other. Students have responded with a demand that Christakis step down.
While Christakis did not condone racist or offensive costumes, students believed that allowing this form of “free speech” did not create a safe space.
Tension at the University of Missouri reached its peak when university president Timothy M. Wolfe and chancellor R. Bowen Loftin stepped down.
According to CNN, “African- American students at Missouri have long complained of a mealy-mouthed response by school leaders in dealing with racism on the overwhelmingly white Columbia campus. Black student leaders have conveyed their displeasure over students openly using racial slurs and other incidents.”
This past weekend the football team announced that they would refuse to play while Wolfe remained in office.
According to The New York Times, “racial slurs [were] hurled at black students and feces smeared into the shape of a swastika on a wall in a residence hall.”
The president’s slow response triggered calls for his resignation.
During one of the demonstrations, protesters blocked a journalist attempting to photograph the event- spurring more arguments on the nature of free speech.