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Powerful Words from Georgetown Students to Administrators on Free Speech

FIRE is no stranger to the free speech problems at Georgetown University—and neither is Georgetown’s student newspaper, The Hoya. In its final editorial submission for the school year, titled “The Final Word,” The Hoya’s editorial staff reviewed many of the changes on Georgetown’s campus—not all of them positive. One of them, of course, is the university’s treatment of free speech. The editorial board notes that Georgetown officials use the institution’s broad and vague speech codes to suppress speech that they don’t like:

When H*yas for Choice tabled in Healy Circle, they were escorted away by GUPD. When Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor were separately invited to speak in Gaston Hall, university administrators screened student questions. When then-Georgetown University Student Association executives Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) and Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14) used their authority as student body leaders to send a campus-wide email, the Division of Student Affairs edited that email’s content.

Indeed, FIRE has covered the poor treatment of H*yas for Choice before. The group must put an asterisk in its name to “avoid affiliation” with Georgetown (as though the asterisk actually accomplishes that). The other actions of the school speak clearly for themselves as similarly restrictive: screening student questions at events, editing student emails—all blatant acts of censorship that fly in the face of Georgetown’s policy commitments to free expression.

The Hoya’s section on free speech ends with a strong call for administrators to make a decision on this important issue:

While administrators have reason both to keep and to liberalize the university’s free speech policy, staying on the fence about free speech is no longer a viable option. Olson promised earlier this year to clarify the free speech policy before the last day of classes, and with two days of classes to go, students have yet to hear from him. As students have demonstrated at January’s forum and in widespread demand for speech reform, the Hilltop deserves to have access to a clarified policy that allows student groups and students to function and freely speak without the possibility of unknown consequences.

[Emphasis added.] 

FIRE commends The Hoya for demanding that the Georgetown administration stick to the promises it makes to its students about their expressive rights on campus. Torch readers should check out the rest of the editorial board’s section on free speech. Perhaps over the summer, Georgetown officials will contact FIRE and ask how they might make their institution a place where their students feel truly free to express themselves.

One can only hope.

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