Building glass was shattered, fires were started. This was the scene at UC Berkley earlier in the year when the university had scheduled a four-day “Free Speech Week,” in which a plethora of right-wing speakers would appear and have lectures and discussions. Following the cancellation of the events, there was a heated debate across the nation about free speech on college campuses.
Questions such as “Is hate speech protected under free speech?” became an adamant point of tension. It seemed, to many, that free speech became a sudden point of conversation in our daily lives. But what spurred such a movement? Is there something else that keeps being missing from the conversation? I thought so, so I set out to find answers in an interview with Kristan Hawkins, the president of StudentsForLife, a pro-life organization, in an over-the-phone interview.
Lately, arguments regarding free speech has put focus to college campuses, as right-leaning speakers move towards these areas to pick up audiences, a phenomenon that seems to have just now started. Has this sudden uptick in events and struggles between administration and students happened because of the intercultural competence of universities that comes in conflict with conservative logic, or is there a national movement from universities to shut down differentiating opinions? Kristan Hawkins believes the latter is true.
“Universities should come out and condemn attacks on free speech,” said Hawkins.
“We had eight years of the most pro-abortion president in the history of our nation and pro-life students never reacted this way,” said Hawkins. She went on to give examples that SFL have experienced themselves, which include the vandalization of crosses that they made to symbolize aborted fetuses in Northern Kentucky University. “It kinda signals that there’s a shift that’s been going on that…if someone says something that you don’t like, they don’t have the right to say that,” she said.
When it came to hate speech, Hawkins believes it is subjective; “What would you define as hate speech?” She posed this rhetorical question before giving an example of a woman that accused her of hate speech and reported Hawkins to administration. But not everything anyone says should and will go without consequence, she says. “He [Richard Spencer] had the right to go to the University of Florida, but I also have the right to not attend and to speak out.”
Many groups that are on campuses fighting so students have unlimited free speech and have the ability for their conservative ideas to flourish are backed up certain private funds. The big ones are usually made by Charles G. Koch Foundation and the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, two American nonprofit donor-advised fund.
For example, according to SourceWatch, FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group which claims to “defend and sustain individual rights at America’s increasingly repressive and partisan colleges and universities,” received $955,561 from the Charles G. Koch Foundation and $1,372,500 from the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund. This type of battle of ideals ends with the insertion of money into the debate. After asking questions based on ideals in the interview with Kristan Hawkins, I went ahead and explained the monetary aspect of the movement of free speech with the following information:
The money trail connection is as follows. According to UnKochMyCampus, between 2002 and 2014, the Goldwater Institute received about $2.5 million from the Koch network’s Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, while the Ethics and Public Policy Center has received about $900,000. The Freedom Center, who sponsored Milo Yiannopoulos’ UC Berkeley talk, received $628,000.
The first two organizations mentioned, the Goldwater Institute and the Ethics and Public Policy Center, have funded the movement and worked to pass specific, to-college-campus legislation in Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, North Dakota, Utah, Illinois and Wisconsin.
With regard to this, I noted that the Alliance Defending Freedom has received donations from Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, F.M. Kirby Foundation and finally, the Charles Koch Foundation itself.
In response, Hawkins said, “This is what happens in politics all the time. Billionaires and millionaires who have a certain political agenda give money to organizations to advance their agenda.”
Freedom of speech is sacred. In many parts of the world, freedom of expression and the sharing of ideas is not just looked down on, but infringed upon by authoritative powers that wish to monopolize thought.
We as a nation, as a campus and as a student body, must not abuse this right. Let us all be conscious of the things we say and let us first and foremost keep our peers in mind before voicing our ideas on the pretense that we can say anything, whenever we want, without consequence.
Let us engage not in debate but in dialogue, keeping within our hearts a certain amount of respect for all those involved. Let us have our politics and our ideas come from deep within, not out of the pockets of those far out of reach. By listening and empathizing with each other, no matter the topic, we can move forward not as a divided body of students but as a whole community with unique views on how we should have life, liberty and justice for all.