The University of Arizona Campus in Tuscon – Flickr user UGArdener
This Sunday in the University of Arizona student newspaper the Arizona Daily Wildcat, interim Dean of Students Kendal Washington White wrote to reiterate the importance of protecting expression that falls outside unprotected categories of speech like true threats and incitement—even if that speech is offensive. Many UA students were offended by the impetus for the column, student Dean Saxton displaying a sign on campus that read, "You deserve rape."
In her column, White reminded readers that "[a]pplying First Amendment principles on a university campus has never been easy," but one must do so "lest one day we be the speaker or writer of an unpopular message." She was careful to note that "upholding the law … is not equivalent to endorsing any individual’s message." To the contrary:
In some corners of the world, speakers of unpopular or offensive thoughts get pummeled with fists, or worse. In this country, we pride ourselves on meeting such individuals not with fists but with words — not words intended to drown those speakers out, but words intended to expose their hate-filled messages to the cleansing effects of logic, reason and commonsense.
Several student organizations at UA have decided to answer Saxton with their own words, providing materials and encouraging students to make their own posters to counter Saxton’s message. White said that the counter-protest is an "opportunity for the university community to join forces to counter the current dialogue and reinforce the University of Arizona’s true campus climate." Students emphasized the positivity of the event and expressed optimism that it would send a clear message both to students and to those watching UA from outside the community.
This is exactly what FIRE likes to see—an explicit commitment to freedom of expression coupled with peaceful counter-expression. With this response, UA students and faculty are contributing to their university’s marketplace of ideas and upholding the ideals of the First Amendment.