William & Mary’s ‘Flat Hat’ Reminds Students: Freedom of Speech Must be Protected

By on September 25, 2012

Comic courtesy of 'Flat Hat' and cartoonist Rachel Brooks

Erlier this month, FIRE published our list of the seven best schools for free speech in 2012. On that list was The College of William & Mary, making its second appearance this year. However, as student newspaper The Flat Hat points out, the school’s history hasn’t always been free-speech friendly. 

Carter Lockwood congratulates William & Mary on its appearance on our list but reminds the student body that in 2003, school administrators attempted to shut down an "affirmative action bake sale"—a decision that FIRE was instrumental in reversing. Also, in 2007, William & Mary implemented a Bias Incident Reporting system encouraging students to report "hurtful" behavior if it was directed at someone because of a protected class. Lockwood, in the Flat Hat, reminds students: 

We might like to think we’ve now become paragons of the First Amendment, but FIRE and other such groups are still concerned about the restrictive and confusing "free speech" zones at the College where, laughably, students still have to ask permission to protest. Lacking the kind of absolute, rock-solid, hundred percent administrative support of free speech that we deserve, we need to remember that nothing stops the school from violating our rights at their own whim. There’s a lot of risky language in the College’s policies that mirrors some of the worst rights violators in the country. Code words are used, but anything that suggests that it’s not acceptable to ever offend anyone else is cause for concern. Currently, there aren’t any College policies that threaten free speech as seriously as some have in the past. However, that doesn’t mean we can put that issue to bed. 

Lockwood is right: Constant vigilance is required to maintain and protect freedom of speech at colleges and universities. If a student body at any university does not remain active in protecting its freedoms, students may find that those freedoms get violated. Thank you to Lockwood and The Flat Hat for this timely reminder. 

Check out the rest of Lockwood’s piece at The Flat Hat’s website.

Schools: The College of William and Mary