The racial uproar at UC San Diego has reached its boiling point. A series of racially charged events, beginning with the creation of a Facebook event called “Compton Cookout,” has brought the campus national media attention. Members of the Black Student Union have rallied to protest purported acts of racism and the UCSD administration and California legislators have vowed to look into the offensive events and punish those involved.
Lost in the shuffle of this impassioned debate, however, is an important issue that should concern all Americans: freedom of speech. After Kris Gregorian, the editor in chief of a UCSD humor paper, called protesters “ungrateful niggers” on live television, the Associated Students of UCSD President Utsav Gupta unilaterally froze funding for 33 student media groups, which is in flagrant violation of A.S. protocol. According to a report by the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), Associated Students is only allowed to freeze funding for student press if the justification is not directly related to the content of the offending speech, and Gupta himself has admitted that the content is the culprit.
This silencing of an entire community’s media outlets is grossly unconstitutional. As offensive as so-called “hate speech” can be, it falls firmly under the protection of the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech with very few exceptions, whether it’s agreeable or not. If Gupta wanted to “handle this situation correctly and fairly” as he said in a media statement, then he shouldn’t have acted unconstitutionally. Several authorities, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the SPLC and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have stepped in to denounce and seek legal counsel to rectify this infringement. According to F.I.R.E., an organization committed to protecting the individual rights of college students, “this constitutional duty [to permit free speech] overrides every university or ASUCSD policy, including a supposed right to ‘shut down’ SRTV-a forum created for student use.”
Legal issues aside, student media provides a vital forum for public discourse, something the UCSD student body needs now more than ever. Even if the language used by a humor paper’s president is considered appalling by many, the best forum to make the case for media standards is in the very campus news outlets that have been unilaterally paralyzed by ASUCSD’s funding freeze.
Voltaire has been quoted saying “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” In order to foster intelligent, university-level discussion of key issues, all speech must be protected, not just the speech of those who agree. The best thing about a free press is that all voices have a forum to express themselves. With student media silenced, ASUCSD is doing a disservice to all parties involved.