Winston Churchill once said that having enemies is a good sign, for that means that you have stood up for something at some time in your life. Nearly three weeks ago, I took a hard stance in support of free speech at Tufts University, the college that I have been attending since the fall of 2015. As Winston Churchill’s quote would suggest, many students on my campus did not take kindly to my actions. In fact, a war of words ensued.
To begin with, in April of this past spring, I started a national non-profit organization called Students Advocating for Students (SAS). Educational in its purposes, SAS’s mission is to both educate students about their rights to free speech and due process on their college campuses and empower them to defend those rights on their campuses. While some of the schools that we work at are private institutions, it is SAS’s belief that free speech and disciplinary fairness are morally required at any serious academic institution that is dedicated to higher education.
As alluded to above, SAS began its first on-campus initiative at Tufts University several weeks ago. In an effort to protect free speech at Tufts, SAS drafted a student resolution for what is known on campus as the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate. Calling upon the Tufts administration to establish clarity within Tufts’ rulebook through the implementation of First Amendment protections, our resolution was simply a request for the Tufts’ top brass to reexamine many of the ambiguous speech codes on our campus and alter them in a way that would make our student guidelines compliant with the First Amendment.
A handbook that is riddled with speech regulations, prohibiting and discouraging nearly everything from “hurtful words” to “gender bias,” Tufts’ codes for student conduct are extremely repressive for an academic institution. The presence of such speech codes are even more alarming when one takes note of how many times this university has stood in defense of free speech: in 2009, the Tufts Board of Trustees wrote a declaration on how important free expression is at Tufts; in 2011, and in 2015, President Monaco publicly took a strong stance in defense of free speech on Tufts’ campus; most importantly, on April 15, 2012, the TCU Senate unanimously passed“A Resolution Supporting Freedom of Expression,” which urged the university to “respect and protect freedom of speech and freedom of expression at Tufts University.”
SAS’s resolution is simply trying to hold Tufts University accountable for the stances it has made on many occasions. However, while the principles of SAS’s resolution have been echoed quite often on this campus, I was subjected to abusive condemnation when I sought student support for SAS’s resolution in the Tufts Class of 2019 and Tufts Class of 2020 Facebook pages. Brit Hume explains what ensued in this video on Fox News, and this blog post from SAS’s website details the war of words specifically. Despite the backlash, SAS will continue to seek out support on campus and put forward the most up to date version of our resolution for a vote before the TCU Senate in the coming weeks.
If you are interested in taking the war for free speech to your campus, feel free to reach out to SAS.