‘Stand for free speech or don’t. But do not say one thing and do another.’
USC recently removed pro-life banners showing fetuses in utero from several lightposts on campus. The banners had been hung Tuesday morning, and were taken down Tuesday afternoon, with campus officials calling the initial installation an “error.”
“The banners did not identify an academic event but instead advertised the services of an external organization,” which runs afoul of university policy, officials stated. And yet students did not buy that explanation, as they have seen other banners promoting other causes hung from their campus lightposts as well.
The pro-life community at USC has since expressed heartache over the decision, and many of their peers – even those who are not card-carrying members of USC Students for Life – are on their side.
One such student is Remaya Campbell, a freshman who has written an open letter to administrators about their recent decision. Campbell, who is involved in many campus groups – the Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, the Harman Academy for Polymathic Study, the Daily Trojan, Thematic Option, the Trojan Scholar Society – tells The College Fix “this issue is particularly relevant to me as a freshman Film Production major in the School of Cinematic Arts-a famously liberal environment.”
“Having only just arrived at USC some eight months ago, I find this incident of selective censorship and others I’ve witnessed on campus to be particularly disheartening,” she said.
Here is her letter:
University of Southern California,
I would like to preface this letter by stating that this is neither a personal attack on you or on the administration responsible for the “error” involved with the removal of USC Students for Life’s pro-life themed banners. However, as I’m sure you know, many students from the conservative USC community feel as though the removal of their message is a personal attack on their freedom of expression.
I’m well aware that you have been presented with this issue prior to my composing this message, however I do feel it is my duty and right as a USC student protected under the Constitution of the United States to speak my humble piece.
USC is pointedly vocal about its support of students’ right to free expression, and yet the university’s actions regarding the pro-life banners speaks strictly to the contrary. While there are legal grounds for the removal of the banners based on the university’s policy not to display banners unassociated with a specific campus event, the selective enforcement of this dormant rule would point to a major shortcoming in ethical principle.
I am not asking why the banners were removed—that has already been put in writing. I am asking why, of all the banners, were those that express a conservative viewpoint targeted? I do not expect an answer, but if you could provide feasible reasoning, I would be pleasantly surprised.
So let’s move beyond the façade of “policy” and address the veiled issue at hand: USC Students for Life, and anyone associated with their political and/or moral views—feel personally attacked, and that is a problem no refund can repair.
I live on a campus where conservative views are kept in secret, having been deemed unfit for the public eye and ear. For a campus that prides itself on being “a diverse community based on the free exchange of ideas,” I am feeling curiously stifled—and I’m relatively moderate.
Is it of any concern to you that I feel uncomfortable speaking what I believe aloud? USC places great value upon its name, but does this university value its name over the rights of its students? No matter what eloquent statement is released to the media over this controversy, actions will always speak louder than words.
I understand that your hands are tied; that’s the nature of a “neutral” institution caught between the passions of two extremes. But understand that the removal of those banners was and is unacceptable. Whether or not the banners are replaced, I ask only this: Stand for free speech or don’t. But do not say one thing and do another. That is a trick for the politicians, not the academics. As a university, we can do better.
IMAGE: Main, GrafixTek/Flickr