Ball State students reflect on Trump's campus free speech executive order

<p>U.S. President Donald Trump holds a signed executive order to require colleges and universities to "support free speech" on campus or risk loss of federal research funds during an event in the East Room of the White House on Thursday, March 21, 2019. <strong>(Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)</strong></p>

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a signed executive order to require colleges and universities to "support free speech" on campus or risk loss of federal research funds during an event in the East Room of the White House on Thursday, March 21, 2019. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

According to Ball State's website,  it "recognizes the importance of free speech, and encourages the free expression of diverse ideas, opinions and thoughts; a right granted to all citizens under the First Amendment of the US Constitution and  Article 1 Section 9 of the Constitution of the State of Indiana.

At Ball State, the limits that can that can be placed on expressive activities and free speech are outlined in the "Use of University Property for Expressive Activities," in Appendix N of Ball State's "Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities."

Editor’s note: Dominic Bordenaro has previously written for The Daily News.

President Donald Trump addressed the issue of free speech at colleges and universities in his 100th executive order — his eighth in 2019.

Trump issued executive order 13864 titled “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities,” March 21, to “enhance the quality of post-secondary education by making it more affordable, more transparent, and more accountable,” according to the White House’s website.

Section 3 of Trump’s executive order states heads of all agencies in coordination with the director of the office of management and budget will “take appropriate steps, in a manner consistent with applicable law, including the First Amendment, to ensure institutions that receive Federal [sic] research or education grants promote free inquiry, including through compliance with all applicable Federal [sic] laws, regulations, and policies.”

“I think in a lot of colleges, students don’t have their voices heard based on different viewpoints,” said Julia Weis, president of  Ball State’s Students for Life Club. “I think [Trump]'s just really trying to make it known that everyone does have free speech.”

The Daily News previously reported Students for Life sued Ball State officials in June 2018 when it was denied $300 of educational resources for pregnant and parenting students in February the same year.

Members of the club said the university violated its own policies with student groups after denying funding for the club but providing money to other campus groups including Feminists for Action and Spectrum.

The lawsuit was settled with Ball State paying $300 and the student group’s attorney fees, totaling $12,000. The university also agreed to revise the student activity fees guidelines. 

Weis said her organization’s opinion is “in the minority” and there should be more awareness for stifling certain voices on college campuses.

“I think everything needs to just be more open and people just need to be less judgy,” she said.

Gaven Schulz, vice president of Ball State College Republicans, said any action to combat the suppression of free speech on college campuses “is a good thing to do.”

Schulz said there have been instances where suppression of conservative speech in public universities wasn’t “adequately addressed,” but didn’t find any particular instance at Ball State.

“I think it’s good that Ball State is open to speakers or any speech from either side of the aisle,” he said.

As long as the speech isn’t “inciting violence directly,” then one must allow it because it’s a public institution, Schulz said.

While not having personally reviewed Trump’s statement, Jim Hague, director of student life, said Ball State has a “rich and positive history” allowing students and other members of the community to express ideas and thoughts.

“Our goal is to ensure that all students have access to free speech, to be able to voice their opinion,” Hague said.

He provided the example of how the Student Activities Committee ensures the planning and execution of marches, vigils and protests, which are “content neutral” and communicated safely.

“We're not looking at the content of the expression that is being requested. It is focused on how do we allow and encourage and maximize that speech to occur, no matter what that looks like,” Hague said.

Brooklyn Arizmendi, president of Spectrum, said the executive order “seemed really unclear” because freedom of speech already exists on campus. She said Ball State students already have polarizing views and different opinions that sometimes result in counter-protests.

“I definitely see it doing more harm especially [with] it being so unclear,” Arizmendi said. “That means that universities could utilize it in whichever way, or be forced to utilize it in whichever way out of fear for lacking funding.”

Weis said Trump’s threat of taking away taxpayer dollars from colleges will make these institutions more aware of certain students’ viewpoints and more willing to let them speak.

The order also states that affected grants “do not include funding associated with Federal student aid programs that cover tuition, fees, or stipends.”

According to the White House’s website, Trump said universities, under the guise of “speech codes,” “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings,” have tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity and shut down the voice of young Americans.

“Trigger warnings are important — not because we want to stop you from saying things you want to say; they are important for the safety of your peers,” Arizmendi said.

Weis also said trigger warnings should be allowed and are a good way to get voices out there no matter what.

“If that's what you're going to be hearing, and that's what you're going to be seeing, then I think that's OK,” she said.

Dominic Bordenaro, president of Ball State Democrats, said safe spaces and trigger warnings don’t limit free speech but rather warn people about what is being discussed.

Safe zones, Weiss said, “in some circumstances are great because sometimes people don't want to hear certain things.” 

Schulz said, “[when] someone’s idea of “being triggered” impedes on my ability to speak or other people’s ability to freely speak on a public institution, that’s where [access to] free speech becomes an issue.”

“It would be hard even for me to argue that universities are not liberal,” Bordenaro said. “I think universities are more prone to promote diversity and inclusion and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Schulz said while universities “generally tend to be more liberal,” he doesn’t think it’s an issue unless they try to impede or censor on conservatives’ freedom to speak.

Bordenaro said speakers brought in by universities should reflect what the student body wants and there’s an issue when they get someone who uses hate speech against a group of people.

He said universities aren’t oppressing “right-wing” speakers and provide them ample ground but the problem is with the types of “right-wing” speakers that people want to bring in.

“When you have people that are spewing hate against gays or black people or Jews that’s a problem because being black is not a choice. Being gay is not a choice. But being a white supremacist is a choice,” Bordenaro said.

Contact Andrew Harp with comments at adharp@bsu.edu or on Twitter @adharp24. Contact Rohith Rao with comments at rprao@bsu.edu or on Twitter @RaoReports.

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