Protest of Transgender Student’s Treatment Could Be Threatened by College’s Free Speech Zone
Students at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) are planning a protest tomorrow in response to the suspension of Andraya Williams, a transgender student who was suspended and banned from campus for using a women’s bathroom. But because of CPCC’s free speech zone, students’ ability to protest is limited.
FIRE—and federal courts—have demonstrated again and again that free speech zones are violations of students’ First Amendment rights. But just like far too many other colleges nationwide, CPCC maintains a free speech zone and imposes unconstitutional restrictions on student demonstrations.
For starters, student expression on CPCC’s central campus is limited to “[t]he outdoor area by the landscape plantings on the wide sidewalk between the west end of Van Every Building and the front entrance of the Terrell Building.” According to CPCC’s website, students enjoy a “beautiful, tree shaded, 31-acre Central Campus.” If students have access to 31 acres, why can they only protest in a tiny free speech zone? This map of CPCC’s Central Campus shows its free speech zone occupies an embarrassingly small percentage of campus.
CPCC’s registration requirements are even worse. Students must register to use their school’s free speech zone at least three business days in advance. Students found to be in non-compliance with these requirements are subject to sanctions, including receiving “a trespass warning” and being “denied future access to College premises.”
If the students planning to protest Williams’ treatment tomorrow didn’t request permission from their school on Monday, they could be given warnings or kicked off campus, just for exercising their First Amendment rights. Students cannot be required to wait three business days to respond to news—especially news that requires an immediate response, like the violation of a fellow student’s rights—and CPCC should change its policy to allow for spontaneous student expression on campus immediately.