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USF should reconsider free speech zones

Self-proclaimed activists with megaphones often elicit irritation from passersby by shouting extremist statements meant to garner attention, leading many to conclude that the University’s free speech policy should be a little less free.

Impinging on the rights of free speech at a public institution may seem to be a dangerous road to tread, but the cost of tightening regulations on who can say what and where may be a smaller price to pay than loosening the University’s discrimination and harassment policy.

That’s why there should be designated free speech zones.

According to Henry Lavandera, associate general counsel for USF, the entire campus, as a public institution, is considered a free speech zone, and all who step on campus are protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to speak freely. The only way for a speaker to be removed from campus is if he or she is in violation of a state or federal law, or if disturbance is caused to educators or students inside campus buildings.

The University’s policy on discrimination and harassment, which applies to faculty, staff, students and “recipients of USF System services,” prohibits making comments, jokes, slurs, gestures or displaying posters that are deemed “derogatory toward any individual’s race, color, marital status, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, genetic information, sexual orientation or military status.”

Yet, by protecting forms of speech that violate the policy, USF is doing itself a disservice in perpetuating forms of bigotry that many universities have accounted for through the creation of free speech zones, something USF did away with.

The University of Central Florida, Florida State University, Florida Atlantic University, University of Florida and Florida International University are among the public institutions in Florida that have designated free speech zones for individuals not connected with the University who wish to express their views on campus.

USF came under fire for the policy in 2003, when former President George W. Bush visited the Sun Dome and protestors not in the designated areas were arrested.

However, while individuals should be free to express their beliefs regardless of their stance, individuals should also have the right to avoid listening to discriminatory ideologies that would otherwise not be tolerated by university policies.

The reinstatement of quarantined free speech areas may be controversial, but would allow non-university members to continue to express their ideologies in as extreme forms as they choose while still allowing passersby who wish not to hear them to stay away.

Divya Kumar is a freshman majoring in sociology and economics.