The Daily Gamecock

Column: Why I sued my school

The University of South Carolina is a school with more than 30,000 students, no two of which have exactly the same views on politics, economics, religion or any other subject of substantial value. This ideological diversity is one of the things that makes an education great. It allows students to experience new activities and discuss new ideas. Participating in intellectual dialogue challenges individuals to sharpen their wit, either by abandoning indefensible positions or by buttressing superior ones. America’s colleges and universities are meant to foster this type of scrutiny by serving as a “marketplace of ideas.”

Once upon a time, USC supported this concept; our motto translates to “learning humanizes character and does not permit it to be cruel,” a direct reference to the process I’ve just described. As recently as 2014, our university president, Harris Pastides, cited the motto in his open letter on freedom of expression. “At Carolina, we place a high value on creating an environment where all viewpoints and ideas are available to all of our learners and to the community at large,” Pastides wrote. “Furthermore, I believe that civil disagreements and discussions are healthy and vital to a meaningful academic learning experience.”

At colleges and universities across the country, these kinds of discussions have come under fire, threatening the freedom of speech of both students and faculty members. Students at the University of Missouri, Yale and others have called on their administrators to block campus speech that makes them uncomfortable. Students and staff at George Washington UniversityBrandeis University and many more have already been suspended, expelled or fired for educational messages that were deemed “offensive” or “disruptive.”

In order to bring awareness to these events and others, the College Libertarians, Young Americans for Liberty and I held a tabling event called “Free Speech on Campus: A Dialogue on the First Amendment.” After receiving approval from the university to do so, we displayed the exact same messages from the above-mentioned cases in the free speech zone on Greene Street in order to prompt discussion. While we did not agree with many of the original messages, we still thought it was important to defend the rights of others to speak their minds in a peaceful manner, a sentiment that we explained to anyone and everyone who spoke with us at the table.

The day after the event, the university charged me with harassment and discrimination for suggesting, as President Pastides once did, that nonviolent debate of even the most controversial subjects should be permitted in a collegiate setting. While the university did not pursue the charges, I asked during the investigation that the university change its policies that allow punishment of any Carolinians “ridiculing” or “insulting” another or are otherwise “insensitive, inhospitable, or incident (sic),” but it ignored that request. My repeated attempts to persuade the university that these restrictions are antithetical to the open learning environment that they claim to defend have been brushed aside, leaving me with no choice but to ask the courts to defend our free speech rights that USC has forgotten.