The Daily Gamecock

Guest Column: The importance of free speech on campus

Last spring, controversial Florida politician and investigative journalist Laura Loomer made her first-ever visit to a college campus to speak with the University of South Carolina community about the importance of upholding free speech on college campuses. A crowd of around 50 protestors gathered in the hallway outside of the scheduled room, with about 20 additional protestors entering the event. As soon as Ms. Loomer stepped into the building, protesters began chanting “Fascist-free USC!”

When the event started, protestors could be heard banging on the door and the walls, attempting to disrupt the event. Inside, protestors continued their chants, delaying the event for more than 20 minutes and stopping only after University of South Carolina Police Department officers threatened them with arrest.

As the campus president of Uncensored America, the registered student organization that hosted Ms. Loomer, I couldn’t have been more disappointed with the reaction from the community. Articles describing the event failed to mention that a USC student was assaulted by a suspected protestor. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured. Without the help of the USC administrators and USCPD officers who worked to organize and keep the peace, the protesters could have caused a lot more harm.

Unfortunately, many college campuses across the country don’t adequately uphold the First Amendment. On Oct. 24, 2022, the Uncensored America chapter at Penn State University was scheduled to host a comedy show featuring comedian Alex Stein and political commentator Gavin McInnes. Instead, after mass protests against the comedy show turned violent, Penn State canceled the event.

In the university’s statement following the cancellation, they referred to Stein and McInnes as “two individuals known for denigrating and hate-filled remarks.” This lines up with previous statements made by Penn State administrators leading up to the event. On Oct. 11, Penn State released a statement that also described Stein and McInnes as “two controversial figures whose rhetoric in the past has been hateful and discriminatory.”

When it comes to speech on college campuses, the First Amendment is the law of the land, and while there are plenty of legally recognized categories of unprotected speech, the United States doesn’t generally recognize “hate speech” as one of those exceptions. In fact, some legal scholars have outlined the impossibility of regulating feelings.

The use of this partisan language by Penn State administrators in an official statement is dangerous, regardless of intent. Students who engage in pro-censorship demonstrations believe it’s their duty to shut down speakers that the university labeled as “hateful.” By invoking such ambiguous language in an effort to separate themselves from ideas they disagreed with, Penn State officials may have inadvertently created the perfect environment for what happened on Oct. 24.

On Oct. 23, 2023, a year after their original event was supposed to take place, Uncensored America successfully hosted a comedy show featuring Stein and McInnes at Penn State. This time, however, there was a notable lack of official statements from Penn State administrators in the weeks leading up to the event. Maybe they did some reflection and came to the same conclusion as me: their language, which may have been with the best intentions, had actually created a more hostile environment.

Although I was disappointed with the reaction to our event with Ms. Loomer, our organization wasn’t going to give in to the mob mentality. The reactions to our events only underscores the importance of what we are doing to bring free speech back to American college campuses.

On Nov. 6, 2023, we hosted a porn ban debate between progressive feminist Brianna Wu and conservative commentator John Doyle. More than 100 students and community members attended this fun, thought-provoking event. Ideas were shared and disagreements were had, but at the end of the day, everyone went home knowing we had an honest and genuine conversation. There was no heckling this time. No incessant chanting. In the six months since the Loomer event, a difference has been made.