When someone brings up the subject of suppression of free speech, I tend to think of right-wing hatemongers who want to use their Second Amendment rights to shoot the First Amendment in the back of the head. I admit I’m biased. Nonetheless, it was a shock to discover that a student had been expelled for writing a violent short story, and his teacher fired over use of “offensive” material in a classroom. Here’s the kicker: This happened at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. The story broke in the March 25 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle.
So here’s a quick overview. The freshman in question submits a first-person narrative of a serial killer, and he’s quite graphic about it. Teacher reads it, panics because she’s given copies to her class already and goes to the administration for guidance. The administration tells the kid to pack his bags – he’s expelled. Freshie’s parents get involved – never a good sign – and claim that Freshie was “encouraged to write about violence after reading a short story assigned in Richman’s Narrative Storytelling class” (San Francisco Chronicle, March 25). The story was not part of an approved curriculum, hence, the teacher was fired. This is where things get creepy.
The school is now adopting stringent policies on all student work, be it writing, art or video game design, and also limiting who is allowed to speak on campus. Author Daniel Handler (alias Lemony Snicket) was barred from entering the building when he went to attend a forum on free expression last Tuesday. He was actually stopped by security guards and given a copy of the school’s “official statement in support of free expression” (San Francisco Chronicle, April 1) and told to leave. All this happened in San Francisco. In a college.
My point, which I’ve taken an incredibly long time to get to, is that universities are places to discuss ideas, which means that people will invariably disagree. But just because someone writes a story about a serial killer, it doesn’t mean that they are planning on becoming a serial killer. When administrations and bureaucracies try to dictate “acceptable art” to adults, we wind up with our ideas and creativity limited, and this is never a good thing. I know there are people who disagree with what I’ve just said, and I’d like to hear their points of view. And under the First Amendment, they have the right to be heard.
Lauren Girard is a junior global studies major.