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THE ITHACAN

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THE ITHACAN

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Editorial: Supporting free speech is essential in higher education

Editorial%3A+Supporting+free+speech+is+essential+in+higher+education
Illustration by Ananya Gambhiraopet

Throughout history, college students have been at the heart of social movements. From nationwide sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement to more local movements, like protests advocating for the removal of former Ithaca College president Tom Rochon, students’ voices have consistently been a catalyst for change. Today, students’ right to free speech is being threatened nationwide. It is of the utmost importance that college administrators either uphold or create policies that support students exercising free speech, rather than silencing their voices.

Students across the country have been suspended, detained and arrested for protesting against U.S. involvement in the Israel-Hamas war at colleges including Columbia University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Florida and Virginia Tech’s Graduate Life Center. Locally, at Cornell University, four students who were part of a pro-Palestine encampment were temporarily suspended for unauthorized use of university property. Cornell University President Martha Pollack has since announced that the university is prepared to issue further suspensions for students and HR referrals for faculty affiliated with the protests. 

At Ithaca College, free speech has been at the heart of countless movements. In 2020, IC Open the Books advocated for financial transparency from the college. In 2023, IC Rise Up listed demands and held a walkout in protest of discrimination against students of color. The college’s current policy on free speech, Section 2.31.1 of the Rules for Maintenance of Public Order, permits students to peacefully protest and exercise freedom of speech at the college, with stipulations regarding unauthorized entry, weapons and more. 

President La Jerne Cornish has upheld the college’s policy and expressed her support for peaceful protesting. In a recent Q&A, she said Ithaca College Students for Palestine had the right to protest at the open house April 20, but did voice that if students protested at a private event like commencement, there would be repercussions. While Cornish’s support for student protesting at public events marks a respect for free speech that many other administrators nation-wide are failing to exhibit, it is important that this support continues, no matter the size or scale of protests. 

The right to free speech is woven into the fabric of both student life and the U.S. as a whole. Colleges and universities should strive to create policies that work to protect free speech for their campus communities. To discipline students for their morals is to stifle the campus community and suppress movement toward progress. Administrators, both locally and nationally, must commit to supporting their campus communities by not only permitting, but supporting, students’ right to free speech. 

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    F. FreeseMay 14, 2024 at 1:13 pm

    Free speech has had its day. Time to shut ‘er down. The American Library Association has no interest in the defense of free speech and hasn’t in decades.

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