Campuses all over the nation, including Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, continue to confront hate speech controversies and is prompting questions about the way universities respond to these situations.
Public colleges and universities, in particular, have to tread a careful line because of First Amendment concerns, as discussed in a free speech webinar held in the University Center on Feb. 6. On Jan. 27 the Island University was subject to hate speech flyers that were posted all around campus. Not only did Corpus Christi’s community express in disbelief in many social media posts, but many students were not happy about the situation and the way it was handled. Junior Kinesiology major Pamela Garcia spoke up and said she felt everything about the current situation was wrong.
“Hate speeches are sadly nothing new, but to think that it has occurred at such a diverse campus as the Island was a true shock to me,” Garcia said. “The people who posted these hateful fliers are truly seeking a reaction out of us, but if we can continue to promote our diversity and offer advice to the ones who were targeted by this, then I believe it could possibly wean off this bitter group; it’s better to lend a hand than to hate.”
The flyers posted on Jan. 27 violated university protocol because they were not approved for distribution. Aside from this, they were posted on doors and windows around campus, which is also a violation on campus. However, those are issues unrelated to the actual message presented.
Although the university was criticized for its initial response to the hate speech incident on social media, in Island Waves stories and in opinion pieces published in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, public universities are, for the most part, not allowed to regulate content of any speech, according to the webinar.
The Expressive Activities Committee hosted the event entitled “Free Speech: 10 Case Studies that Changed Campus Communities.” The webinar was already planned before the hate speech flyers were posted on campus. According to Nathan Arrowsmith, an attorney with Osborn Maledon in Phoenix, AZ, speech issues on public colleges and universities are troublesome because such entities are considered “government actors,” and the First Amendment specifically protects citizens against government interference with free speech and free expression.
Due to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi being a public university, any attempt to regulate speech or expression based on its content carries the highest burden in the courts.
“The challenge of a campus is where we can reasonably draw the line,” Arrowsmith said. “So we are not regulating speech, or give the perception we are regulating speech based on its content.”
Arrowsmith said a white supremacist speaker appearing on campus would also be protected, even if the speech is considered inappropriate and cannot be regulated because the message is “vile or repugnant.”
Since the incident on campus, students have begun to take action into their own hands to promote that the Island University is indeed a university for everyone (See accompanying story on Student Citizen Activists activities on page xx). According to an email sent out by President Quintanilla the Art Association and Theatre’s Honors program distributed posters around campus that reflect the vales of the university with the following message:
“This is an island for everyone. You are welcome. You are loved.’”