UND administration, protecting our free speech is imperative

Elizabeth Fequiere, Staff Writer

Since this semester began, there have been a few key events that seem to have shaken the administration at UND. In response to a few students taking obscene, racially offensive photos, a full investigation was launched by campus police.

This prefaced a campus wide conversation of a “zero tolerance” policy on campus.

In his message to the campus community, President Mark Kennedy stated, “While I appreciate the desire for such a policy, it is unachievable under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

This is not to say that measures weren’t taken to ensure that something like this won’t happen again.

In the spirit of being proactive, the diversity council has been  convened to look for similar issues like this occurring on campus and to find ways to stop such behavior. Student leaders even organized a “Zero Tolerance Rally,”
which President Kennedy and several members of the UND administration made a point to attend.

More recently, on Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, the entire student body received an email from UND Administration, urging students to censor their Halloween costumes and “make good choices.” Although the university seems to be jumping through hoops in order to correct what seem to be isolated events, I think more is being done now because the university’s image is at stake. The concern is less for the feelings of the students and more for the appearance that the University is doing everything possible to discourage racially offensive actions.

I, for one, am less concerned about how these incidents were received and am more concerned about the students’ right to free speech being infringed upon.

No, the students responsible weren’t punished, but that wasn’t for a lack of trying. The administration did everything possible to hold the parties responsible for the photos accountable for their actions.

Not to be misunderstood, it’s not that I don’t agree with the idea that incidents like this are offensive and hurtful but that is the price to pay for freedom of expression. The First Amendment guarantees this freedom, which speaks to how important our forefathers thought this right is and passing this same idea onto students is of such great importance.

Students go to college to explore different aspects of education and life. It is at these institutions that students learn what it is to be an adult, to have a mind of their own and express themselves as they see fit. Zero tolerance only teaches students that they have to keep their mouths shut for fear of offending someone else or worse, saying the wrong thing and having a police investigation opened with the entire student body turned against them for exercising their right to free speech.

I firmly believe in the First Amendment and everyone’s right to speak their mind however they see fit and I think the administration at this university should promote the same message.

In a world where college campuses have “safe spaces,” students feel more inhibited than ever to say how they feel and what they think. A “safe space” being an area in which one can say anything they want is an illusion created by people who only seek to silence those who say things they don’t like.

Urban dictionary defines a safe space as, “A place where college students can go if they have been subjected to ideas that differ from the progressive narrative.” But isn’t that the problem? College campuses should be a free place to express whatever point of view one sees fit. Trying to snuff out freedom of expression and limit students to reiterating only the progressive narrative is something that should be condemned.

Elizabeth Fequiere is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected]