In Their Words: Free Speech On College Campuses In Iowa

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A word used in a derogatory way toward African Americans is in this report and may be viewed as offensive. It was not removed or censored in order to authentically state the kind of language being referred to by speakers.

Reporters interviewed three dozen students, faculty members and administrators at six college campuses in Iowa in February and March for an IowaWatch college media journalism report on free speech and expression on those campuses.


Here are some of the responses:

Sarah Livesay, University of Iowa instructor and doctoral candidate in English

Sarah Livesay“Hate speech – I don’t think that’s freedom of speech. I think that’s where it’s tricky because I don’t think you’re free. … Well you’re free to have feelings but you’re not free to express hatred in a violent way or a way that might incite violence. I mean we’ve seen it happen enough that we know it’s not harmless. One person says something then the next day there’s groups of people gathering in a threatening way.”

— Reporter: Ian Schmit, IowaWatch

Austin Hughes, University of Iowa freshman English major from Arlington, Texas

Austin Hughes“I get everyone has different beliefs, no matter how certain they may be, and as long as they’re not encroaching upon the rights of others I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

But at the same time, personally, I can see a lot of merit in respecting other people and their differences and withholding specific language that would not be very nice to other individuals. So, ‘should it (speech limitations) exist?’ is a very hard question for me because I think there are both pros and cons on putting parameters and boundaries on free speech.”

— Reporter: Ian Schmit, IowaWatch

Alfred O’Brien, December 2015 University of Northern Iowa graduate with a degree in marketing management and ethics

Alfred O'Brien_UNI student“It was on a Thursday and I was at the library, and I was leaving to walk home after it closed. And I was heading across the street from my house. And this truck came — I was about to cross the street — a big green truck and it had the Confederate flag flying in the back. And there were at least two guys, probably a whole crew or something, but the guy in the shotgun seat got up … outside the window so he could see me and waved his hands and said, “Oh, what’s up nigger! I see you out there nigger!” just as they happened to be driving past.

“And I don’t know, it made me angry. And it took probably everything I had to like keep my cool because I know if I acted up it was just me and the truck on the street. There were no other cars. No campus police, no other students walking around — it was past midnight. So, it was empty.

“So I’d been in that situation before, so I ran through my head, ‘If I shout back or like throw something at them, they could easily come back around and confront me and I’m just outnumbered.’ So anything could’ve happened. I just kept quiet and went about my business, and you know after that I didn’t get much sleep that’s for sure.

“It’s just one of those things. I mean I was a fifth-year senior at that point, so it was just something you had to get used to.”

— Reporter: Nicholas Fisher, Northern Iowan

Jim Wohlpart, University of Northern Iowa provost

Jim Wohlpart_UNI“I agree that no student should have to hear the n-word. Using language like that is not using freedom of expression. That is diminishing other human beings in ways that we should not do on a campus. Again, let me say this: when you cross the line where you’re no longer civically engaging other people, it’s no longer a civic dialogue, it’s now an attempt to diminish, demote, cut people out of a conversation,then it’s no longer what we champion on a college campus.

“But you asked a bigger question: for instance, what happens in classrooms. Coddling of the American Mind is about the kinds of materials that we’re teaching classroom that make people uncomfortable. Using the n-word is much different than what a faculty member does when they engage material in a classroom that might make people uncomfortable because it challenges their beliefs, what they know, what they think. To a large extent that is exactly what faculty are expected to do, is to offer students an opportunity for learning and growth. And learning and growth is generally something that isn’t comfortable. Anytime you’re reflecting deeply on what you know, what you do, you have to rearrange things in your mind that you’re learning and growing in. This is a wonderful opportunity for students in four to six years to really focus on that.”

— Reporter: Nicholas Fisher, Northern Iowan

Miranda Pollock, Buena Vista University assistant professor of graphic design

Miranda_Pollock“I remember, about five years ago I was in Madison, Wisconsin, almost every day protesting at the Capitol with a sign, walking, protesting our displeasure at how union jobs were being dismantled, and what was happening to the Wisconsin campuses. And I felt that, from a personal note, it helped me grow as an individual, to be able to be a part of a group that could freely speak about their displeasure at what the government was doing – the government of that state. It was powerful. It was extremely powerful.

“And now, as an educator, I look back at that and I wish that our students had more opportunities. Maybe not that things like that would occur, but that we had opportunities to speak out, rally around a cause, and use our rights of freedom of speech.”

— Reporters: KBVU Radio, Tiffany Brauckman, Britanny Poeppe, Kyle Wiebers

Konner Bryant, Mount Mercy University sophomore majoring in business management, marketing and human resources

Konner Bryant mug“I think the key to understanding other people’s opinions is to truly understand where they are coming from.”

“As a gay male, I have had students come up to me and ask all sorts of different questions. It’s not so much them trying to pick on me, but rather they don’t quite understand. Some people get really angry about that, but I’ve chose to take it as an educational opportunity so they can learn.”

— Reporter: Taylor Zumbach, Mount Mercy Times

Chris Malloy, University of Iowa Law School pending graduate and school of journalism and mass communication doctoral candidate

Chris Malloy“I think that feeling uncomfortable, and feeling offended by other people’s ideas is, in my opinion, actually kind of an important part of life because it’s that feeling uncomfortable and feeling offended by other peoples’ ideas that allows you to then respond to their ideas and explain why their ideas are wrong. And if you’re not put in a position where you sometimes are offended and made uncomfortable by other peoples ideas, you’re not going to have that experience of saying ‘alright that’s totally offensive and this is why.’”

— Reporter: Krista Johnson, IowaWatch

Peter Catchings, Cornell College senior with a double major in politics and English

Peter Catchings_Cornell“I think that there is speech that can be inflammatory and that can garner a response from individuals that is not conducive to a learning environment, and there’s also language and speech that can create a non-inclusive environment on campus. From most campuses, or most institutions I should say, schools want to create an inclusive, safe environment for their students, and I think that a lot of speech is — it goes against this goal that institutions have, so I think that it should be limited on campuses in a degree.”

— Reporter: Clare McCarthy, IowaWatch