Students affiliated with the Students for Liberty campus organization have begun petitioning for free speech rights on Troy University’s campus this week.
Students for Liberty believe that everyone should have equal standing before the law and has teamed up with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to bring to light the issues surrounding Troy’s rights as stated in The Oracle.
A University of Pennsylvania professor founded FIRE in 1999 with the mission, “to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities.” FIRE rates universities as “red light,” “yellow light,” or “green light” depending on the extent to which the university’s written policies constitutionally protects speech.
Troy University received an overall red light rating based on its policies against protected speech. These policies are outlined in The Oracle under the sections regarding technology use, harassment and discrimination, sexual harassment, and housing and residence life. FIRE cites in a memorandum sent to the Students for Liberty several examples of First Amendment problems within The Oracle.
These examples include Troy University’s policy that “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.”
There are also policies in place against “shunning or exclusion related to the discriminatory or harassing grounds.”
FIRE believes that ambiguities such as these leave students confused as to their speech rights at Troy and renders the policy as overbroad and ambiguous for First Amendment standards.
Jeremiah Baky, a computer science major from Coden and a representative of Student for Liberty, said that one of the problems is that, “the harassment policy uses a university definition of harassment rather than the legal definition,” and “it does not protect members of the LGBT, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender, community.”
The Students for Liberty believe that the sexual harassment policies and other policies are so vague that it is left up to any person to say whether or not another is being offensive. As of now, there is no set definition in the handbook of what is and what is not deemed offensive.
Troy University considers a section of the social quad behind Bibb Graves as a free speech zone.
Ana-Shea Fann, an economics major from Muskegon, Mich. and the campus coordinator for Alabama Students for Liberty, said, “We are told that we have a free speech zone, but that’s not on paper. The free speech zone is an atrocity and as a public university we have rights to free speech everywhere on campus that does not directly affect classes.”
In The Oracle the free speech zone is described as being located at the amphitheater adjacent to the Trojan Center that is no longer there.
The case of Dickey v. Alabama Board of Education is a Supreme Court case in which a Troy State student was expelled for writing a controversial article in The Tropolitan. This case was cited when asking students to sign the petition.
“We are not advocating that people should be harassed, hurt, or victimized in any way, but just because you are offended about something or don’t like their opinion doesn’t mean that you should be threatened [to be expelled or punished],” Fann said.
Students for Liberty hope to bring attention to the issue of free speech on Troy’s campus by asking students to sign a petition, which will be sent to Dean Hebert Reeves along with a packet from FIRE discussing the specifics of the issue.
Students for Liberty is asking that administrators sit down with FIRE to work on amending Troy’s speech codes so that they protect First Amendment rights, protect people from sexual harassment and fall in line with students’ constitutionally protected rights.
Over 200 students have signed this petition.
Taylor Hardwick, an ecology and field biology major from Valley, said she signed, “because everyone has the right to say what they want to say and not be reprimanded for it.”
Students for Liberty will be on the social quad today gathering more signatures and is willing to answer any questions that the student body has regarding its cause.