A column published in The Daily Eastern News on Wednesday, “Free speech should not have to be ‘approved’” is gaining quite a bit of traction.
Kennedy Nolen, a very talented writer, takes a stand against the approval procedures a registered student organization or individual must complete before posting fliers in public places.
Nolen said this process hinders the individual’s right to free speech, as the university is cherry-picking what is shown and what is rejected. Nolen cites an incident from 2013 in which a victim was wrote a message on the Doudna Steps about her rapist still being allowed on campus. The chalkings were later washed off because they were deemed inappropriate.
I do believe in a lot of what Nolen, and those who support her stance, are saying; however, I cannot jump on this bandwagon for a few reasons:
My first reason is probably the most superficial and boring, but it is probably the most logistical. The university is a public entity that serves the needs of students. Posters in Coleman Hall, Doudna, the Union, etc., reflect campus life and events hosted by the university and the many RSOs. I believe that allocating these spaces to university-specific events is not only understandable, but necessary. If the approval process is removed, then anyone anywhere can post whatever they want, regardless of if the event or message is EIU-specific. Instead of posters advocating for Black History Month, flu shots provided by the Health Center, or RSO events, it could be cluttered with apartment listings in Mattoon.
Secondly, I would like to reflect on the statement, “You cannot filter content and only choose what you think is OK to be seen. You cannot tell one person their flier or poster is deemed more appropriate than someone else’s just because you do not like what is on it” (Nolen). This is a completely conditional statement. While I agree with the sentiment in reference to the victim speaking out against the lack of legal ramification against her abuser, the situation could be reversed just as easily. We all know that racism, sexism and xenophobia are alive and well on this campus, and by allowing the floodgates to open for anyone to post whatever they please, we open the doors for obscenity.
Lastly, I believe that there is a difference between a university-regulated wall with thumbtacks advertising university events and the concept of free speech on a campus. I believe that individuals have a right to their opinion, but getting posters approved is a logistical formality. The university is responsible for our safety, the events that occur on our campus and the reputation that follows that which we create. Students run RSOs and create events, and EIU gives them a space in which to advertise said events. The approval process protects the public space, and I do not think that kind of censorship is as scary as some make it out to be.
To illustrate my previous point, I have a short anecdote. Just this month EIU FEM hosted an event where they screened a romantic comedy about abortion. Is abortion a controversial topic? Yes. Does it offend people? Of course. However, the university approved our posters and we had them all over campus. I sneaked a peek at some more conservative students snatching a poster or two off the displays, but Eastern granted my club a space in which to speak about what is important to us despite the opinion of many of the students.
I do understand the frustration of conflicting ideals, as people should be allowed to exercise free speech, but there are protections and decorum in place to protect those who may not have a platform big enough to hold their own. Even The Daily Eastern News, the pillar of free speech on our campus, has rules in which I am allowed to write. I love the oxford comma and I prefer to use it in my own practice, but when I email this column to the editor, many of my commas will disappear.
The pursuit of free speech does not mean posting whatever one wants wherever one wants, but to ensure that every voice on the campus has an equal chance at being heard. As far as The Daily Eastern News is concerned, the sacrifice of the oxford comma is a small price to pay to have my voice printed every Thursday (well, Friday for this week).
Abigail Carlin is a junior English language arts major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]