The events of Charlottesville ignite questions over how free speech will be handled at colleges and universities across the country.
It was a harrowing series of events that shook the nation. In August, thousands gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia for the largest rally of white supremacists in decades. Racial slurs and ‘White Lives Matter’ rhetoric resounded around the University of Virginia campus while tensions with counter protestors thickened.
But the tipping point came when a lone White Supremacist drove into a crowd, killing one woman and injuring 19 others.
While the ramifications of the August weekend continue to unfold, a tiresome question remains: How will Charlottesville paint free speech on campuses moving forward?
“Free speech is a still an important value that needs to be held up consistently and constantly, especially by universities,” said John Minster, Chairman of the DePaul College Republicans.
DePaul Chaplain and former lawyer, Tom Judge, predicts that post-Charlottesville will bring a new reality to higher education.
“Colleges and universities are going to be environments where limits are tested, limits of speech and what’s allowed and not allowed. They are also going to be targeted.”
DePaul has confronted the controversial debate surrounding free speech in the past. In May 2016, Milo Yiannopoulos’s appearance was so controversial that students interrupted his lecture leading campus security to shut the event down altogether. And last year, DePaul officials would not allow conservative Ben Shapiro to speak at his scheduled event due to the uncertainty of safety following campus-wide protests.
Minster felt canceling Shapiro’s event was a violation free speech.
“There’s gonna be some people who say some bad disgusting things but that comes with the territory,” said Minster.
For Michael Lynch, the president of DePaul’s Student Government Association, the University’s decision to allow speakers like Yiannopoulos on campus added fuel to heightened racial tensions. Lynch, like many other students of color, protested Yiannopoulos’s appearance.
“You have a right to free speech but people have a right to protest. You can’t tell people to stop protesting when your speech is impacting the experiences that they are having.
And the question over free speech versus hate speech is not just present at DePaul. Students from the right and the left are speaking out at campuses across the country.
Beginning this year, DePaul formed a board to evaluate who will speak at the university. Peggy Burke, the Associate vice president of Student Affairs, facilitates this board.
“The board is very attentive to what that mean, and it’s a test to how to maintain that free expression of ideas,” Burke said. “So they have taken what happened at Charlottesville very seriously knowing that the same thing can happen here.”
DePaul’s new President, A. Gabriel Esteban made this statement following Charlottesville: “DePaul’s work on race and free speech will continue this year, and I assure you it will remain a priority in the university’s next strategic plan.”
“I don’t expect us to see eye to eye on every issue, but it’s still a level respect as DePaul students that we should have for one another,” Lynch said.