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I'm a senior at USF, and I still hold out hope for a culture of free speech. Here's why:

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This spring, at the end of the term town hall in my political ethics class at the University of South Florida, one presentation took a pause-worthy turn. A student exclaimed.

“I’m usually pretty quiet, but I have an opinion about what to discuss in class,” she began. However, she usually kept these opinions to herself because she thought that her own opinions did not exactly coincide with those of others. But it was her last day, so she shivered and decided to open up.

She went on to offer a thoughtful analysis of the speech in question (Rep. Adam Schiff’s Closing Statement in Donald Trump’s First Impeachment Trial). She took a nuanced stance in his defense, delivered a compelling opinion, and saw many students nod.Schiff didn’t convince her because she was so focused on what would happen to Trump gladly To What Trump Has Done in the Past, Not What He Has Done Did it conduct.

I was surprised. Our professor, Stephanie Williams of Judy Genschaft Honors College, encourages us to feel empowered by First Amendment protections and push back against the opinions of others. She understood that in addition to protecting individuals from government censorship, the First Amendment is intended to: promotion — Do not disturb — Peer pushback. Our professor was actively trying to create an environment of intense disagreement, so why did this student keep his opinion to himself for so long?

Sam Lechek
Sam Lechek [ Provided ]

I believe the simple answer has been presented before. Government legal protections against free speech alone are not enough. Our professor let us know that our opinions will not be suppressed by his USF. However, young people in the class are hesitant to share a clear dissenting opinion from the perceived consensus of the majority of campuses and classrooms.

In the words of the late Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, “ultimate trust in civilization’s deepest needs must lie outside of courtroom proof.” culture It encompasses free speech, not just legal proof of First Amendment protection.Student expressions may be jealously guarded government But thoughtful people should feel the power to dissent, even if they fear being ostracized on social media or in the classroom.

It may be difficult to be optimistic at this time.

Conversation about politics felt It feels more stressful and more ubiquitous than before for many Americans. Neighbors know each other’s political affiliations when such information was previously unimportant. Social media is rife with hateful partisan rhetoric, and like-minded users become polarizing groups when exposed to only like-minded viewpoints. Cable news organizations such as Fox, MSNBC, and CNN are clearly partisan. Domestic political tensions are also reflected in electoral politics, with few examples of true compromise between political parties in parliament.

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Out-of-parliamentary elected officials suggest with their (often misguided) actions that they are aware of these issues. The Florida Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis were quick to argue that they are defending free speech, but they are not defending everyone. When HB 7 came into effect on his 1st July, educational guidance, including public universities, should not “endorse, promote, promote, inculcate, or enforce” any of his eight viewpoints enumerated. has become illegal. Congress’ actions undermine the nonpartisan doctrine that the First Amendment upholds by passing expressive laws that deny certain points of view. If the classroom only allows certain perspectives, students will encounter arguments they disagree with and be deprived of the opportunity to deconstruct them.

Despite these challenges, I remain hopeful about a culture of free speech. The weekly meetings of the First Amendment Forum (1AF), a student organization I founded in 2019, bring together students of all backgrounds and perspectives to discuss and disagree on contemporary issues.

For example, in a discussion of abortion last fall, one student began with the claim that “life begins at conception.” He was one of the few pro-lifers who participated in the discussion, and I feared my civility would collapse.

But what happened during this discussion surprised me.With bated breath the students began to object, but they qualified Their discussion by acknowledging the few commonalities they had. Their opinions on this matter did not overlap, I agree that abortion raises a difficult issue. They recognized that it is difficult to determine when life begins, and acknowledged that viability is actually an ever-changing line of demarcation. We continued to explain the differences and our conversation moved forward.

I suspect that by the end of the evening, most of the students had changed or flipped their opinions. But this meeting proved it. When end Discussing and genuinely engaging with the other side of the issue can have positive effects.If your interlocutor does his best to persuade you, you can yet If you can come up with good reasons to hold your view, you can feel confident in your position and let the interaction go. Additionally, in a culture where opinions often only lead to profile pictures, real discussions are a good reminder of where opinions come from. Manwith face, personality and complexity.

I often asked myself: What is the trick in 1AF meetings? What is the power to tame the passions of students with radically different worldviews?

There may be various forces at work. After discussing the first few topics, I thought maybe he was lucky with 1AF. And I found a group of students who uniquely value politeness. These students then began to bring their friends, and the politeness persisted despite fluctuations in attendance.

A civil debate therefore includes more than just civil dispositions. Students often told me after 1AF meetings that disagreements are exactly what makes conversations interesting, even when the discussion touches on fundamental beliefs we hold dear. Civil debates prove that disagreement can be heartening. fun.

My final suspicion is that 1AF works because students feel respected and heard. Each student is equally respected as an intellectual and each student has an opportunity to speak. Of course, not all of them are look What is offered is equally respected by the group. The discussion makes that decision. But at 1AF, each student is considered an equal participant in pursuit of more knowledge, even if their views don’t win by the end of the meeting.

The culture of free speech is still visible outside of 1AF discussion meetings.

I have witnessed some of the most overt political disagreements in dorm common areas. The late-night study session at the library was interrupted. I’ve seen it at work among my fellow student leaders. And sometimes, the culture of free speech is most alive late at night in a dimly lit apartment.

What ties the discussion of 1AF to these fleeting moments? I think the answer is good intentions. While it is impossible to underestimate that honesty is essential to a culture of free speech, it is also difficult to define. It’s a certain mood among people.

Goodwill means recognizing that good people can fall into many different sides of an issue, as did my colleagues at 1AF. Conscious of “Steelman” instead of “Strawman”, strongest Not the weakest version, but the version of other people’s arguments. I hesitate to judge my character based on my political ideology. It is a reminder that today’s moral consensus may be obsolete tomorrow.

you may feel Discussion groups like 1AF are as powerful as goodwill vanishes from American politics. Because they bring real people into contact with each other and in doing so foster goodwill. With good faith, civil discourse is still possible.

When students like me who promote civic discourse all over the country graduate from university and go out into the wider society, I think it is important to transplant the culture of discourse cultivated on campus and bring it to the workplace, home, and community. it’s our job. When promoting a culture of free speech off campus, we must remember that humans are complex, and so are politics.even if you have everything idea They are not created equal. Man are equal and therefore entitled to good faith. And finally, building a culture of free speech in an era of self-censorship will require the courage of many to rise to the top of the world. first time — but perhaps not the last — voices of dissent.

Heading into the fall, some developments look promising.

There is some support for such outright dissent at the state and college level. The Florida Board of Governors, which regulates the Florida State University system, recently recommended that the university review its speech-related policies and adopt proactive actions to promote civic discourse on campus. Regardless of the Board’s intentions, universities like USF have taken these recommendations as an opportunity to promote a culture of discourse on campus.

USF had already launched its own program before this report was published. It’s a “Freedom of Speech on Campus” presentation for incoming freshmen. Students were presented with three common free speech dilemmas: uninvited speakers, disruptive students, and controversy over dorm posters. Next, 1AF leaders were invited as panelists to share our wisdom on free speech in academic settings. We are excited to share this program with all of the students enrolled at USF for years to come.

We hope that programs like USF’s Free Speech on Campus presentations will empower new students to challenge themselves on campus. Not just from the last day of class, but from the first day. They may find new friends. For example, the day a student in my political ethics class shared her views at City Hall, she was the most popular student when leaving class. Many students praised her for sharing her opinion, even though it was tough. Some wanted to talk more. And one student (who would you say the three are?) invited her to the next meeting of the First Amendment Forum.

I have hope for America’s free speech culture. This hope is not naive. I recognize that free speech is a “forever radical idea.” Naive does not know the situation. Despite them, hope is optimistic. I have observed the campus discourse up close. hope.

Sam Rechek is a fresh graduate and president of the First Amendment Forum, a student organization at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He is also a former summer intern with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and the Florida First Amendment Foundation.