by Collette Deschenes
The Carleton Students for Liberty made headlines when their free speech wall, erected for students to freely express their thoughts and opinions, was unjustly vandalized and destroyed by seventh year human rights student and self-proclaimed activist Arun Smith. Smith chose forceful attempts to silence the views of others rather than engage in an intellectual debate. He claimed (on his open letter on Facebook) that the free speech wall was “another in a series of acts of violence” against gay rights and that “not every opinion is valid, nor deserving of expression.”[i] Clearly Smith does not know the true meaning of FREE speech.
As a recent university graduate, I know first-hand that often only one side of the argument is voiced on campus. University classrooms, clubs and societies SHOULD be places for students to share knowledge, gain insight, and participate in healthy debate. Instead they are notorious for squashing free speech. Free speech is not supported or protected. Universities, our institutions for higher education, should support an abundance of diverse opinions, yet most are taking campus censorship to a whole new level. Instead of encouraging students to be critical thinkers, they’re promoting group think. Students with opposing views are typically stigmatized, made to feel uncomfortable for having an opinion that differs from the rest. What happened to open healthy debate? Currently, our leaders of tomorrow are taught on university campuses that censoring speech is appropriate, that it’s the norm. They’re taught that free speech is a good thing until someone tries to voice an opinion that’s different.
The Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms (a sponsor of the free speech wall at Carleton) released their 2012 Campus Freedom Index[ii] measuring the state of free speech at Canadian Universities. The Campus Freedom Index measures the “commitment of Canada’s public universities, as well as student unions, to upholding the rights of students to express their beliefs, opinions and philosophy on campus in a peaceful manner.” Sadly, but not surprisingly, the results were dismal. Only three Canadian universities and student unions earned a grade of ‘A’ while 28 earned ‘F’ grades. Most universities and their student unions are restricting and prohibiting activities that they see as ‘controversial’ or activities that present opinions they perceive will make others uncomfortable.
Carleton University was one of the worst offenders on the JCCF’s freedom index. Their student union’s policies and procedures AND actions undermined free speech on campus. The Carleton Student’s for Liberty stood up for free speech on a campus that so clearly needs guidance. The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies has also launched a project aimed to shed light on the lack of intellectual inclusion on university campuses. AIMS on Campus does not seek to indoctrinate, but rather to provide an opportunity for balance and intellectual inclusion on university campuses. It provides students with the tools to advocate for freedom and liberty, to help foster a more intellectually inclusive environment on their university campuses.
The lack of free speech and culture of censorship on campuses is an obvious problem. We NEED groups like AIMS on Campus and Students for Liberty to bring this issue to the forefront. Students need see that there are two sides to every debate. Free speech is free speech regardless of whether or not you agree with what’s being said.
Collette Deschenes is the the Communications Coordinator for AIMS, helping to ensure that the conclusions of its research are communicated effectively to a regional and national audience.