Objections to ‘Indecency’
Published: Friday, January 17, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 17, 2014 01:01
Walking into Leo’s on the day of the Student Activities Fair, one could not help but notice the differences in treatment some student groups face at Georgetown. Unrecognized organizations like fraternities, sororities and H*yas for Choice waited outside and loitered just inside the dining hall doors, carefully handing out flyers so as to remain in compliance with university policies that wrongfully limit what they can say and how they can say it.
The Georgetown University Speech and Expression policy contains outdated and harmful sections regarding acceptable expression that deserve public notice, if not immediate revision.
Last night’s Georgetown University Student Association free speech forum, entitled “Free Speech in the Digital Age: Are There Boundaries?” was a much-needed discussion of an issue that has, in the past, popped up regularly but remained on the fringes of widespread debate. The forum, which was attended mainly by campus leaders, covered topics like disparities between policy and practice and the effects of defining Red Square as a “free speech zone” on a campus that claims to be committed to free speech. Amending the speech policy was a prominent pillar of GUSA President Nate Tisa’s (SFS ’14) and Vice President Adam Ramadan’s (SFS ’14) campaign platform last year. While this forum provides a valuable step, it is disheartening that this single tangible effort to fulfill that promise comes only in the 11th hour of their tenure.
Although the university’s Speech and Expression policy begins with an eloquently stated commitment to free dialogue, it goes on to declare “expression that is indecent or is grossly obscene or grossly offensive on matters such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation is inappropriate in a university community, and the university will act as it deems appropriate to educate students violating this principle.” This open-ended restriction on “indecent” expression — to be later defined by university administrators — acts as an unacceptable deterrent for the type of healthy dialogue that Georgetown ought to protect.
Though last night’s forum did not answer many of the questions about free speech that persist on campus, it represented an important step in bringing together students and administrators in a public setting to discuss the various facets of free speech policy at Georgetown. And if we can’t talk about anything we want, then we should all at least be talking about that.