There’s a difference between productive speech and harassment

Sophia Garcia

Editor’s note: This guest column is in response to an op-ed by the president of University Democrats Andrew Herrera titled “UT’s administration is not as liberal as you think it is,” which appeared on last week’s Forum page.

The question of what qualifies as a “veritable” assault on free speech is one that has been increasingly blurred, in part by the actions of our national administration both prior to 2016 and after, as well as by the actions, or lack thereof, by our University administration. The University of Texas at Austin touts ideals of across-the-aisle conversations, civility and being an center for free thought, but the fact remains that the voices which take precedence in University policy are those that align with our administration’s ivory tower. 

Seemingly progressive is not progressive. The wide dissatisfaction amongst UT students when concerning the state of speech on campus is one charged with frustration and expectancy as our administration continues to guard its right-winged martyrs and ignore the true aim of free speech, which is to inform.

While it’s true that speech is meant to invite and challenge, let us remember that speech without any substantial aim to educate is on par with frivolity. As per University policy Chapter 13. Speech, Expression, and Assembly, subchapter 13-200, Section 13-204. Harassment, d., “The harassment that this section prohibits does not exhaust the category of speech that is unnecessary and inappropriate to vigorous debate in a diverse community of educated people.” So, herein lies the crux. What exactly constitutes as “unnecessary” and “inappropriate?” Affirmative action bake sales and “Catch an Immigrant Day” are certainly not mere forms of peaceful protest or the disbursement of opposing ideas from educated persons. They are events meant to incite anger through the derision of their fellow peer’s most integral sense of self.

Some would argue that it is easier to ignore the Young Conservatives of Texas and their disparaging antics, but this is the danger in and of itself. Failure to address what is “unnecessary” and “inappropriate” has led to ambivalence and complacency from our administration. They have conflated “unnecessary” and “inappropriate” speech with “free” speech in efforts to practice a civicism which puts protective priority on aimless, hateful speech.

We attend this University with the intention of being educated. It is the University’s responsibility to demonstrate how educated minds conduct themselves in the face of division and politicization. Our administration has the power to unify our student body, or divide it via their decisions. If free speech is under attack, it is the silenced voices that are suffering: Our students of color, our undocumented students, our peers living with trauma, our classmates who work to put themselves through college — not those who are continually awarded a platform to speak. The salient issue for the administration to consider is as follows: Does the University of Texas at Austin value equality or equity? There is clear cognitive dissonance in what our administration does and what it attempts to sell, and if steps are not taken forth to ameliorate this issue, then the answer is clear.

Garcia is a government and philosophy junior.