By Ana-Shea Fann
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education awarded Troy University for having the worst speech code in America in 2013.
In fact, none of the major public universities in Alabama receives a “green light” rating from FIRE.
Then, the Huffington Post ran an article about the Ten Worst Colleges for Free Speech, and once again, Troy was on the list.
Troy, in fact, has had a notorious reputation for ending up in court over the infringement of First Amendment rights of students, starting with a student who was not allowed to publish an article, so instead ran the word “CENSORED” across the front page of the newspaper.
A lot of people would look at this as an embarrassment.
I see this as a golden opportunity. If we are the worst, then we can only get better from here.
Our speech code is as follows: “For purposes of Troy University’s policy, harassment is any comments or conduct consisting of words or actions that are unwelcome or offensive to a person in relation to sex, race, age, religion, national origin, color, marital status, pregnancy, disability or veteran’s status.”
Basically, our policy blatantly disregards a great deal of constitutionally protected speech.
A great deal of political opinion is censored under this code because so much of policy is directly related to all of those points of relation.
A real-life example: talking about Christianity to someone who is not a Christian could be considered to be words and actions that are unwelcome and offensive.
Clearly, you have to be very careful about what you say and who you say it to per the speech code, lest you be branded “offensive” and “unwelcome.”
There are many, many problems with our speech code. First, the vagueness of the speech code almost definitely allows cherry picking between what is and is not offensive. Second, it totally inhibits discourse without the threat of some level of reprisal beyond just disagreeing with a fellow student or professor.
The likelihood that we will never encounter an opinion differing from our own has a near zero probability, and the same can be said for being offended.
If one never encounters disagreement or offense, chances are someone is lying to avoid rocking the boat or you live like a hermit.
College, as an institution, is specifically designed to foster the development of the ideals of individuals.
A necessary component of doing that job well is for one to encounter opinions differing from the one that is already held.
Our speech code works directly against that goal.
The problem is obvious, and the solution is even clearer.
We need to change our speech codes to foster our First Amendment rights and a greater opportunity at education without fear of reprisal.
As a student, I would like to see the administration of Troy University work with FIRE to amend the speech codes so that we can become the first school in Alabama to fully recognize First Amendment rights on campus and receive a green light rating from FIRE.
As a school, we strive to be the best in all things. Shouldn’t this also be the case when it comes to preserving a long-held traditional American right?
Shouldn’t freedom of speech ring in every hallway and every quad?
We could become the torchbearers for the preservation of rights in education in the state of Alabama. This is not an opportunity to pass up.