Finding Space for Free Speech on New York Campuses

The major catalyst came from a video taken of members of the Alpha Chi Rho fraternity harassing a black female student with racial slurs. 

This isn’t the first instance of racial discrimination at SU. In 2018, 15 students from the Theta Tau fraternity were suspended after a video surfaced showing members proclaiming hatred for African-Americans, Hispanics and Jews during their new member initiation process. After a series or protests from students, the school released a video outlining their approach to address campus racism including increased campus police patrol and revising its student code of conduct. 

 “If you’re saying something to intentionally harm or cause harm to a group/person then there should definitely be restrictions,” said undecided first-year SUNY New Paltz student Zoë Justiniano. “No one should feel fear for themselves over what someone else has said.”

Within the SUNY system, Binghamton came into the free-speech spotlight after videos surfaced showing the chaos during a discussion held by the school’s Young American’s Foundation (YAF). Dr. Arthur Laffer, an American economist, was interrupted by student protests after only 11 seconds on Nov. 18, according to the Times Union. Students are seen chanting and prohibiting Laffer from speaking and some protestors are escorted from the room by law enforcement. 

Another video, posted on the YAF Youtube channel on Nov. 15, shows students screaming at students tabling for the Laffer event, tossing their signs on the ground and folding up their table. 

“Often times student protests are biased and are designed to single out people who see things differently,” said fourth-year marketing major Ross Mandell. “ I personally feel more comfortable learning through trained professionals, than through groups of students who are just as confused as I am.”

SUNY New Paltz is not exempt from free-speech related conflict. Over the past three years, the campus has experienced an influx in protests pioneered by various activist groups. In 2016, negative feedback from concerned faculty and members of SA derailed a speech from Cliff Kincaid, who is an author and conservative political activist, according to a statement from President Donald P. Christian.

“Following the decision, I acknowledged the regret and disappointment about the cancellation because as a college campus we must champion the free exchange of ideas, even by those who we may disagree with,” Christian wrote in the statement. “I would like to believe that SUNY New Paltz would not fall victim to the disturbing trend at other colleges and universities where speakers are uninvited because members of those campus communities take offense at the guest speaker’s point of view or previous actions.”

A full guideline of campus-related free speech policies and regulations are available online at https://www.newpaltz.edu/free-speech-policies/. They include information about inviting outside speakers, political activity on campus, event organization and rules to maintain public order. 

Max Freebern
About Max Freebern 82 Articles
Max Freebern is a fourth-year journalism major who’s going into his fifth semester working for Oracle. He worked his way from a contributor, to copy editor and has served as the News editor for the past few semester. While he normally focuses on local government his true passion is writing immersive work and human profiles.