Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Freedom of expression: It’s not really free

Victoria Campbell

The First Amendment protects our rights to freedom of speech as United States citizens. This often extends into the umbrella of expression, defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as “the act of saying what you think or showing how you feel using words or actions.” Often, words can be just as impactful as actions. 

Augustana promotes students’ freedom of expression through the designation of sidewalks as a free expression zone, but not their ability to speak freely. Many professors in classes encourage students to express themselves inside and outside the classroom, but there is no college-wide promotion of freedom of speech. 

The Augustana Observer offers an opinions section weekly, where writers freely express their opinions on different topics. However, this comes with backlash from people who do not agree with the articles.

Ultimately, everyone is entitled to their opinions, but nobody is entitled to tear someone down for what they believe or think. The backlash students can potentially face if someone disagrees with them is not something widely promoted on campus.

On the other hand, Augustana does a good job of promoting freedom of expression, whether that be what you wear, what groups you belong to or what religion you practice. This extends into the classroom too, where professors respect pronouns or preferred names. Students can express themselves in a way that makes them feel comfortable.

One aspect that seems to be unconcerned with the freedom of speech is political affiliation. I am not a Poli-Sci major, so none of my classes have ever been politically biased. However, this does not apply to some of my professors, who almost always show only one side of politics. I do not think this fosters a safe environment for students to openly express their conservative or liberal viewpoints.

Augustana does promote campus-wide free expression through books. PEN America is an organization dedicated to protecting freedom of expression through literature. They’ve come to Augustana’s campus to speak at Symposium Day before. They encourage students to fight against censorship and banned books as part of their freedoms.

The concept of banned books does not seem prominent at Augustana, probably because the college does not enforce book bans. Professors choose whatever books they deem appropriate for classes. It is important to note the freedom to read should go along with the freedom to refuse to read something that makes us uncomfortable. 

There is going to be an upcoming Res Life collaboration with PEN America for a “Build Your Own Free Expression Workshop” which will include ways to set guidelines for ourselves in conversations with others.

According to the PEN America program guide, guidelines may include but are not limited to entering a “conversation in good faith”, listening thoroughly without interrupting, trying to understand various viewpoints and perspectives and differentiating and respecting all facts and opinions.

The general idea of freedom of expression comes down to the classrooms, a place where authority figures have control over what is being taught and discussed. Professors create a surface-level inclusion of freedom of expression and speech, but it does not apply to everyone.

Augustana does make an effort to implement freedom of expression within the classrooms or around campus, but it is a vague, not entirely inclusive experience for every student who comes to this college and fails to champion free speech.

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    Mary WindeknechtFeb 26, 2024 at 1:21 pm

    Why do free speech zones exist at Augustana? Inherently, that means that some zones do not allow free speech. Every square inch of Augustana should be a free speech zone! Colleges should be places that welcome disagreement and debate. That is how all of us grow as critical thinkers — one of the Augustana College learning outcomes.