Letter to the Editor: A solution to make students comfortable on campus

Courtney Capece

Dr. David Szymanski,

There is a prevalent issue or topic that most students have encountered, witnessed, or heard stories about here at the University of North Florida. On campus, we have seen preachers, religious groups, and organizations voice their opinions and beliefs on the Green or even other places around campus. Under the First Amendment, we have free speech and freedom of expression, but it only goes so far. The primary issue is how far are these people allowed to go when they are voicing or trying to express their opinions to students on campus. We have seen this going on for many years but especially this school year since many preachers and organizations express their views regularly. In an article written in 2009, it describes how preachers were behaving: “They scream, push and antagonize students to believe in a God who is portrayed in the Bible as forgiving and loving. But their efforts are contradictory.” The issue is of concern because some of these people say very derogatory words towards females, those of the LGBT community, “non-Christian” students, and even males. According to a recent survey conducted by the University and Student Affairs Committee, 662 students completed the survey. Among this number, it was concluded that 83.9 percent of the students are made uncomfortable by preachers and speakers, with 47.9 percent responding that they are “very uncomfortable” with the matter at hand. This issue is worth addressing and solving because students should enjoy where they go to school and they should not feel uncomfortable when speakers are yelling at them as they just walk by.

I believe if someone wants to express their beliefs or opinions, then they should have a certain time and specific location that’s enclosed for discussion that way they are not disturbing the peace in an outdoor area. This could be compared to a public speaker coming on campus to talk about a specific topic at a presentation or event. This solution would work since nobody would be screaming on the Green disrupting the peace. If anyone wanted to listen and have a conversation with them, they would be able to go to a confined area where not everyone has to be. People would also not feel uncomfortable or bombarded by something they don’t want to hear or see. Benefits to this solution include a space where speakers, preachers, or groups still have a place to voice their beliefs, it’s not a common area where most people have to walk to get places, it’s not disrupting the peace, this could be a place for actual conversation, and when kids are on campus tours visiting the campus they won’t get a bad impression or feel uncomfortable here at UNF.

The most important benefits to this solution are that it wouldn’t make students feel uncomfortable while they are on campus and it wouldn’t be deterring potential students who are considering UNF in their college decisions. With this solution, we wouldn’t be having these problems of students feeling uncomfortable. The university community would feel safe since these speakers would be in a designated location, opposed to them being in a common space where everyone is at. With this solution, university police would not have to worry about any altercations between speakers and students. And because of that, the University itself would not have to deal with any negative attention that it might bring to light against the school.

Of course, when we are dealing with the First Amendment, we must be careful with our actions since we all have the right to freedom of religion, speech, assembly, the right to petition the government, and freedom of the press. Freedom of expression under the First Amendment protects these preachers, speakers, or organizations with what they are doing. There was a bill passed by former Governor Rick Scott which turned the entirety of all Florida public colleges into free speech zones. The bill mainly states, “A person who wishes to engage in an expressive activity in outdoor areas of campus may do so freely, spontaneously, and contemporaneously as long as the person’s conduct is lawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the public institution of higher education or infringe upon the rights of other individuals or organizations to engage in expressive activities.”.

By putting this solution into effect, the University could get a lot of heat from the media saying that this violates First Amendment rights. And people should have the right to be doing this all throughout campus since we have the right of free speech and expression. However, giving them a specific room or place that is confined is not infringing on First Amendment rights since they are still able to express their beliefs. Therefore, doing this, speakers will still be able to voice their opinions but those who don’t want to hear it and are just trying to get an education will be satisfied as well. But the bill also states, “Anyone whose rights are being violated may bring action against the university through the court.” So, if someone feels like they are in danger or these speakers are violating what expressive rights they are given, then they are able to take action against them according to this bill.

There are many benefits to this proposed action but most importantly it will keep the students who pay to get an education here at UNF and others happy. Doing this will make people feel safe and feel like they are welcomed on campus. Probable consequences if there is a delay of this issue being addressed could lead to altercations if the speaker says something that rubs someone wrong. If this leads to an altercation it might be using physical force or even worse which could be a lethal force. Taking immediate action to this issue would be a benefit since many people would feel at ease from being verbally attacked by these people. It would also keep from the media portraying our school in a bad way. When taking this into account you have to think about the students who are going to this university. We are the ones who pay to get an education here and do not want to deal with people telling us how to live, what’s right and wrong, getting harassed because of what we look like, or any other forms of harassment.


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