After Minority Students Complain About Pro-Trump Chalk Messages, Appalachian State Limits Free Speech
The board made this decision even as it recognized that the right to assemble and to exercise free speech is “guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the North Carolina Constitution.”
Those rights are not absolute and may be subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions imposed by the university to protect public safety and university property, to minimize disruption of university operations and to afford assembly and free speech opportunities to other members of the university community and public.
Even though the chancellor and the board said they were worried about the safety of all students, their main concern seems have been making minorities feel comfortable on campus, free from offensive language they interpret as racist. This is evident from the chancellor’s letter on September 28, in which her primary focus is on proving “strong demonstrations of support for our underrepresented students.”
The adoption of these resolutions sends a strong signal from our top leadership that Appalachian values diversity of thought, belief and community, and is committed to fostering an environment that is supportive to all.
It’s also the focus of the chancellor’s first letter when she touted the school’s participation in “an internationally renowned Sustained Dialogue initiative, in order to engage members of the Appalachian Community in dialogues that cultivate strong, trusting relationships, foster respect for each individual and cultivate everyone’s ability to contribute to positive change.”
Diversity, inclusivity, and civility—not actual safety—seem to be the main concerns of the leadership at App State. Social engagement and creating a “safe” environment has now become an excuse to restrict free speech.
While it’s true that free speech isn’t absolute (you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater), protecting the feelings of minority students at a public university is not a cause for limiting that right.
The way to create an safe environment is to punish unlawful behavior. If someone makes a threat, investigate the incident and discipline them. As for anything else, including chalked political messages you don’t like, that’s just what living in a democracy looks like. It’s not always nice, it’s not always comfortable, and it’s not always civil. But it is free.