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In case you read anything about me today…..

Adam Kissel of FIRE

The Boston Globe probably has the best take about what has been happening to the student newspaper I advise, and what my response has been thus far. The why, however, is perhaps best characterized by the introduction I gave for Adam Kissel of the Foundation For Individual Rights In Education when he spoke on campus Friday in response to the recent controversy:

Over the past few weeks we’ve been hearing a lot of sentences that start with the words “I’m all for free speech, but…”

The problem is, there is no “but” when it comes to supporting free speech rights. Being all for free speech means you protect the right of all speakers — and, perhaps most importantly, you protect the right of speakers who have views that challenge your own, or even offend your own.

Our guest today understands that perhaps better than anyone. Adam Kissel is with the Foundation for Individual Rights In Education, a group that works tirelessly as a watchdog to make sure the free speech rights of students are protected on college campuses.

I first heard of Adam two years ago when I read an article that contained his quote that appeared in the Comment’s and announcing this event: “If you go through all four years of college without being offended, you should ask for your money back.”

Adam speaks to the ideal version of what a college education should be: a place where your own knowledge, ideas and values are allowed to crash into the knowledge, ideas, values of your professors and classmates and, hopefully emerge four years later stronger, if not completely rethought and reworked.

My own college education was not like that, and after reading Adam’s quote I have spent a lot of time talking with my students. What I have found out is their experience is often one like mine, where we simply gave answers we felt were in line with the professor’s view on whatever the subject was. This isn’t a good recipe for developing the critical thinking skills college is supposed to instill in its students.

Adam arrives on campus at a time when copies of the student newspaper are being stolen and when the independence and existence of that paper has been threatened by the administration. One of the variations of that sentence we heard this week is “I’m all for free speech, but it has to be responsible.”

The problem is, students cannot learn how to use their free speech rights responsibly if those rights are taken away. I am pleased and honored to welcome Adam Kissel to Bridgewater State University.

In addition to FIRE, the Student Press Law Center has gotten involved in the case and sent this letter to the president of Bridgwater State University on Thursday.

Update: The Brockton Enterprise also has a fair story on the issue that’s worth reading. The reporter spent a good deal of time on campus and brought in a lot of different voices, including students who are not involved in the debate and a journalism ethicist.

I support the students I advise, as well as the decisions hey have made. But I also support the rights of their critics to criticize their work. What I can’t support is the threat of censorship, which to me is censorship. Once the paper is censored, and once the chilling effect resonates throughout the campus, this and any other debate are no longer possible.

3 Responses so far.

  1. davecopeland says:

    Let’s review: If you want to trash me on my own Web site (or, better yet, libel me), you at least need to give me the courtesy of a real name and real email address before I’ll approve the comment.

    Thanks.

  2. Angela says:

    I want to voice an opinion here, which is not against free speech, but might make you understand why some people are angry.

    Rape survivors face a huge stigma when they come forward, and the girl that stepped forward on campus in a campus forum had no real reason to believe that her name needed to be published. The variety of newspapers around Boston as well as in the Country do support the right of rape survivors to expect some kind of anonymity when they are coming forward.

    If you remember not too long ago, when the Duke Lacrosse team was accused of rape, or Kobe Bryant was accused of rape, when the name of the victim was exposed, there was a great deal of talk about the person being a “whore, slut, homewrecker” Someone who asked for it, etc..

    Cope, I was in your class and you know me. What you didn’t know about me? I’m a rape survivor. Some people are okay talking about it, and I’m one of them, I’m a tough woman who survived something traumatic and I don’t care what people think. What I’m disappointed about is that people don’t understand the sensitivity of the issue, and why it is something so important to keep private for some people. It would have been easy to ask if she wanted her name published.

    If she said no, you were set, if she said yes, you were set.

    It’s about being aware of the problem with letting the name go out there for all to see..

    Most rapes are never reported or prosecuted because women fear being labeled the way other women do when they are publicly exposed. We have to be careful to be sure to encourage those who have been sexually attacked to come forward and not be afraid of the stigma. It’s not about the right to free speech, but the right of a person who is victimized to feel they can get justice and not be attacked for it, or have a life changed even more dramatically than it already has been by having this happen.

    Rape victims already have to deal with defense attorney’s who often question the morals and dress of the victim as it is, and the release of names to the press would be a terrible thing to do to anyone who has come forward with what has happened to them.

    The protection that the press allows to rape survivors is integral for the rights of these people who have gone through so much to begin with.

    So there are my two cents. I’m not bashing anyone, just trying to pass forward my perspective so you and your reporters.

  3. davecopeland says:

    You make some good and heartfelt points, but, again, the narrative in all of this has become clouded. First, you need to keep in mind that not only did the woman whose name was mentioned speak at a public rally, but she was on a Facebook invite to the event and named in a press release promoting it. The reporter covering the event was in email contact with rally organizers at least one week ahead of time and made it clear she wanted to focus on the narrative of a survivor.

    But the real issue to me is what the Comment should and should not have done becomes a moot point when her supporters flood the Comment’s Web site, social media and other news organization’s Web sites with critical comments that list the woman’s name. We were set to have a private meeting with the organizers on April 18 to work towards some sort of resolution, but on April 1 a dozen people went before the SGA and made comments (some of which again used her name) on a video which is now available on YouTube and the SGA’s Web site.

    After that point, it becomes a censorship issue. The comment acted ethically and did everything right journalistically. I am not trying to downplay the sensitivity of this particular case, but if the Comment makes an exception and removes the woman’s name from their Web site, anyone who doesn’t like whatever has been written about them, even if it is accurate, can make a case for censoring the newspaper. I won’t even bother to go deep into the technical side of things and note that, the way Internet search engine cache systems work, it would be impossible to completely remove all references to the woman’s name — in large part because so many of her supporters have taken to social media and public comment sections of Web sites to bash the Comment while invoking her name.

    The problem is the facts and the Comment’s point of view have not been fairly portrayed. As soon as you take this off campus and put it before an objective, national audience, people side with the newspaper. It’s only on the campus of BSU where the debate has become emotional that the Comment gets accused of all sorts of things and people like me end up potentially losing a job I love, only because I believe with every fiber of my body the newspaper acted professionally and appropriately.

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