Panelists address freedom of expression on college campuses

By Yari Tapia, News Reporter

DeKALB – Students had the opportunity to ask a group of panelists questions regarding free speech during the Role of Freedom of Expression at a Public University event from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday on Microsoft Teams.

Dean of Students Kelly Wesener Michael moderated the event. She read off questions that students were able to send in through a chatbox of the live stream. Wesener Michael was also assisted by Shantez Branch, director of Greek Affairs for the Student Government Association. 

The three panelists were Bryan Perry, general counsel for NIU, Daniel McConkie, associate professor of law and Tamara Boston, project coordinator of the office of academic diversity, equity and inclusion.  

Panelists discussed multiple points over the topic of freedom of expression. They began by discussing a broad overview of First Amendment rights at a public university. More specifically, the speakers focused on how NIU maintains institutional values while still upholding rights stated in the constitution. 

Panelists also discussed the importance of content neutrality and how NIU goes about supporting all viewpoints and what students can do to navigate these issues.

McConkie was asked if administrators should restrict views on opposing and or unpleasant ideas. He said it was better to hear everyone’s viewpoint and allow everyone to speak their minds. 

“You have to think about a way to articulate why you feel the way you do,” McConkie said. “More speech is how we counteract bad ideas, this will lead to a lasting social change.”

Perry was asked if a student’s freedom of expression changes when the student has multiple roles within the university.

“Depending on your role, you may have compromised some of your rights,” Perry said. 

Outside of school, students are completely entitled to their rights given in the First Amendment. However, depending on the organization that the student is a part of, the student is responsible for abiding by the core values of the organization. This especially applies to students who have a leadership role. 

“Students cannot use their platform as president or vice president to project their views onto others,” Perry said.

Boston touched upon how NIU supports students who have endured harm from hate speech. She suggested that a Diversity Dialogue could allow students to come together and understand the impact of their words. As a student advocate, Boston encourages students to use positive engagement to fight hate speech. 

Boston said students can also fill out a bias incident report that would be carefully evaluated by the Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.