‘We can support the right to free expression even when we strongly disagree with what is being said’
ISLA VISTA — The Associated Students Senate at UC Santa Barbara approved a resolution in support of free speech on Wednesday night, with student free speech activists and student government representatives working together to pass the measure on a campus that has seen its fair share of controversy.
The public university has been widely criticized for its apparent disregard of free speech rights in recent years after a professor stole a pro-life student’s sign in 2014, and more recently after a letter administration sent to incoming students essentially warned them to watch what they say.
“In simple terms, just because you can do or say something (because it’s legal) doesn’t mean that you should do or say it,” the letter to students had stated.
That memo prompted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to send the school’s chancellor a warning that it fell into the foundation’s red light rating, meaning it clearly violated student’s protected free speech.
Students say they hope the free speech resolution’s passing will prompt administrators to address FIRE’s concerns.
“Support for the right to free speech should not be taken as an endorsement by this Senate of any particular form of speech,” the approved measure stated, adding “we can support the right to free expression even when we strongly disagree with what is being said.”
It also called on UCSB administration to “immediately work to amend all speech codes so that they no longer contain any language that infringes upon or threatens to infringe upon students’ right to free expression.”
The measure was approved Wednesday after a presentation from students Jason Garshfield and Brandon Morse in support of the bill. The two students had first introduced it in draft form in January and worked with student senators to gain its approval.
To launch their speeches, Garshfield and Morse rolled in a somewhat deflated, seven foot beach ball covered in signatures that had been collected throughout the day. The ball served as a symbol of free speech on UCSB’s campus, and it was covered in statements from students that ranged from “Fuck Trump” to “Fuck Bernie.”
Morse said only one person objected to the beach ball, telling the owners that the signatures needed to be collected in UCSB’s “free speech zone.” Otherwise, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“This is the kind of behavior that needs to be protected,” Morse said. “What rights do we have if we cannot push a seven-foot ball on campus?”
Garshfield then cited Ben Shapiro’s recent lecture at CSULA, at which protesters violently blocked students as they attempted to get into the building to hear the speech.
“I want to make sure with all my heart that what happened there last week does not happen here,” Garshfield said.
Garshfield encouraged senators and those attending the meeting to be open to dissenting views, unlike their peers at CSULA.
“This is about humility, and taking a position of accepting forms of speech is taking a position of humility,” Garshfield said.
After the speeches by Garshfield and Morse, student Sen. Akshaya Natarajan said that “although I disagree with Jason and Brandon on many, many things, I think it still shows something that we were able to collaborate on a bill and have a wholesome discussion.”
In the public forum section of the meeting, several people talked in support of the free speech resolution, with none in opposition. One UCSB student who spoke in support was Eric Lendrum, who had been present at the CSULA Ben Shapiro speech.
Lendrum asked senators to consider the hostile actions which had taken place at CSULA as an example of why the resolution is so important.
While attempting to attend the lecture, Lendrum said he “genuinely feared” for “life and limb” as he was attacked by protesters. Lendrum told the student senators that college campuses are the “institutions that by their very nature cry out for the betterment of the mind of man.”
“If we do not stand for free speech, here and now, against this kind of thuggery, what else will we stand for?”
After the public forum discussion, the resolution was passed, with a resounding “God Bless America!” shouted from the crowd upon its approval.
Garshfield told The College Fix he is thrilled the resolution was passed and felt this could be the start of a free speech movement across college campuses.
“We’ve truly seen the best of democracy tonight,” Garshfield said.