Free-Speech on College Campuses

            Thesis Statement:

             The prohibition of hate-speech or any speech which constitutes a “clear and present danger” to students on college campuses is a good and necessary policy.

            Summary of Opinions:

            The issue of free-speech on college campuses poses a complex debate. Key factors of the controversy include: the rights to personal safety and free expression, as well as factors of racial and gender tolerance. The volatile nature of the issue ensures adjudication at the highest levels and also a far-reaching historical set of precedents, none of which has successfully “answered” the issues of free-speech and civic welfare.

It seems prudent that the US Constitution should provide the framework by which all policies of free-speech are reckoned. “The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, in part, that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” This freedom is deemed a fundamental right, because it assures individual self-fulfillment or autonomy,” (Zingo 17) .

            Zingo discusses how the 1st amendment serves many interests: “it is a means of advancing knowledge and searching for truth;  it gives all members of society an opportunity to participate in the political process of self-governance;  and it provides a safety valve for society[…] because suppression of discussion is injurious to society.

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” (Zingo) With that in mind, it is also useful to peruse counter-arguments which posit a more modernist interpretation of the First Amendment. “Media-law experts attempt to impose the eighteenth-century ideals of freedom of speech and press on the modern world as if no changes have taken place.

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Today, First Amendment doctrine assumes that governmental censorship still poses a greater and more real threat to our rational self-governing ideal than self-gratification,” (Collins, and Skover 25).

             However, the Constitutional and judicial basis for restrictions on free speech stands far aside from this contention: “the Supreme Court ruled on a case challenging speech regulation[…] question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree,” (Zingo 18).

Questions and Rhetorical Strategies

Key questions:

1) What constitutes “clear and present danger?”

2) What are methods for enforcing legislation.

3) How have prior Supreme Court first amendment cases been decided?

4) How to define a hate-crime.

Rhetorical strategies:

                To convince that racism, sexism, and hate-crimes constitute a “clear and present danger” to students on college campuses will require evidence and citation from legal opinions and legal precedent. The “hate-crime” according to preliminary research seems to be a well-established fact, backed by substantive evidence and scientific study. “Despite the tremendous strides resulting from civil rights legislation, racism remains one of the most pressing social problems in the US[…]

Hate crimes have been prominent on university campuses for the last two decades but vary widely in their targets and severity.” (Marcus et al.) Whether or not a college chooses to restrict the freedom of speech based on the Constitutional premise of “clear and present danger” there is a question as to whether or not prohibition of  discriminatory speech, alone, will curtail racist and discriminatory practices. “In recent years, attempts to curtail racially discriminatory activities have focused largely on speech codes to limit inflammatory presentations (Altman, 1993) but these attempts have not been well received.” (Marcus et al.)


            I believe that prohibition of hate-speech or any speech which constitutes a “clear and present danger” to students is an important issue for all citizens, but especially to those who may be impacted directly by hate-crimes. Most minority students wqill probably be sympathetic to my thesis while “conservatives” will see it as an infringement of civil rights. Ironically, liberals may also view it this way, or even more ironically they may not view it this way and in so doing, they will have become sympathetic to a restraining of free-speech.


Collins, Ronald K. L., and David M. Skover. The Death of Discourse. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996.

Marcus, Ann, et al. “Perceptions of Racism on Campus.” College Student Journal 37.4 (2003): 611+.

Zingo, Martha T. Sex/Gender Outsiders, Hate Speech, and Freedom of Expression: Can They    Say That about Me?. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998.

Jacobs, James B., and Kimberly Potter. Hate Crimes Criminal Law & Identity Politics. Oxford:             Oxford University Press, 2001.

Cite this page

Free-Speech on College Campuses. (2017, Feb 17). Retrieved from

Free-Speech on College Campuses

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