FIRE’s Catherine Sevcenko at NeW Annual Conference: Anti-Speech Campus Phenomena Are Connected

June 21, 2016

C-SPAN 2 aired comments made by FIRE Director of Litigation Catherine Sevcenko at the Network of Enlightened Women’s annual NeW National Conference in Washington, D.C. last week. As a panelist discussing “Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces, and Student Debt: How Colleges Are Failing America,” Catherine offered valuable insight on the connections between seemingly disparate phenomena like administrative bloat, speech codes, safe spaces, and trigger warnings.

For example, she noted that an overabundance of administrators has led to the proliferation of speech codes—rules that restrict speech on campus. (You can check out your school’s speech codes in FIRE’s Spotlight database.) The existence of speech codes, in turn, “sends a message to the entire campus that censorship is OK.”

Catherine pointed out a particularly strong link between the emphasis speech codes place on not causing offense and increasingly favored “safe spaces,” adding that those environments have their merits but can’t set the standard for discourse on campus.

“We at FIRE say that a safe space is an important shield. College can be overwhelming—particularly the first couple of years. You want to find your peeps. And a safe space, if you want to call it that, is a great way of doing that,” Catherine said. “But it cannot be a sword. You cannot take your views of the world and try and enforce them on other people and announce that the people who disagree with you are somehow dangerous and are making you feel insecure and therefore they should be silenced.”

Catherine’s comments are a great primer—soup to nuts—on the major anti-speech threats FIRE is seeing on college campuses today.

Check out Catherine’s contribution to the panel above, or view the whole conference over on C-SPAN 2.