Weaponized free speech creates zero-sum, unproductive dialogue

Monique Salah

Recent articles by Andrew Herrera and Sophia Garcia highlight a deep personal position I hold regarding free speech and has emboldened me to share my view publicly. In their articles, Herrera and Garcia detail some of the methods and results of silencing the growing voices of progressives, students of color or other marginalized groups by the UT administration. I would like to give an argument for the reason we see this struggle for vocal power on campus. Mainly, the reality that speech is inherently zero-sum. 

Conservative institutions intend to maintain control as shown by their habits of cultural imperialization. For the past half-century, conservatives have stifled anti-war protests, the civil rights movement and women’s suffrage to name a few essential moments in our history. When progressives have challenged the orthodoxy, they were silenced by administrative action, police brutality or uncivil public scrutiny. 

What had to be reckoned heavily against the conservative reactionaries in my eyes was when I became acquainted with their activity on our University, in our classes and with public platforms. The Young Conservatives of Texas’ UT chapter has figured that if they have to compete in a space against increasingly popular progressives, the best course of action is to continually pursue offensive, outlandish and arguably violent protests to draw attention away from more deserving voices. 

Take the Affirmative Action bake sale, which states that students of color do not have a place on campus, or the rape apologetics of the Kavanaugh protest, or the promotion of doxxing undocumented students with the “Catch an Immigrant Day.” Everyone already knows the positions of YCT. What is the purpose of staging these events, gathering this kind of attention? Whenever the spotlight starts to stray from the student organization, they quickly react with their next publicity stunt that is designed to control the campus political narrative, and the direction of community discourse. 

YCT continually brings the focus to themselves, forcing countless students to rebut, defend their peers and engage in disingenuous shouting matches. We must come to terms with the reality that speech is not inherently free in these kinds of spaces. The speech of YCT is implicitly infringing on the speech of other students due to this very real constraint of community

The conservative doctrine of free speech rejects the equitable principle of existence and replaces it with eternal privilege of power and strength by the din of their arguments and their conversational dead weight. Must we continue to have the same debates over climate change, women’s bodies, the reality of rape culture or the safety for students of color? Can we start to have public discourse that reshapes society for the better? I implore my fellow students to start having these conversations and move forward despite those who would rather take us back to the same issues again and again. The spirit of progressivism and a feeling for social justice must be fused into one sentiment in our hearts and minds. Then a day will come when students will be welded together through a common love and a common pride that shall be stronger than ever before. 

Salah is a sociology junior from Houston.