» Free Expression

Many times when people hear the term “freedom of speech,” they think “rights.” However, as Dean of Students, I frequently tell students: “I have little interest in protecting anyone’s free speech – my interest is in your learning and growth.” It just so happens that freedom of expression at a university is vital to maximizing your learning. So, instead of thinking of free expression in terms of protecting others’ rights to say something, think of it in terms of protecting your rights – and those of your fellow students – to choose for yourself what you want to hear and consider, and how to respond to speech with which you disagree. We believe that you, not administrators, should decide what you deem worthy of hearing and considering. After all, not all students react to controversial or even offensive speech in the same way; some prefer to avoid it completely, while others prefer to confront it directly. Others still may find listening to offensive ideas helps them refine their own thoughts and ideas, even if it doesn’t change them. If administrators censor campus expression, we deprive you of these choices.

Free expression is an essential asset to students’ education and I encourage students upset by the speech of others to focus their energies on responding to what is said, rather than trying to prevent others from saying it.  That said, while a student may act on their right to free expression without being subject to university discipline, offensive expression can have deep ramifications on our community.  Disparaging someone’s idea is not the same as disparaging someone’s identity.  Moreover, the uneven power dynamics in our society often exacerbate the negative impact some speech can have on people from historically-oppressed communities.

I hope by exploring the resources on this website you will understand more fully the value free expression adds to your Chapman education, the impact it can have on other students’ education, and how to respond to others’ expression in a way that feels right for you and advances our community.

Jerry Price, Ph.D.
Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students

Why is it valuable?

The right to free expression is key to hearing speech we want to listen to and learn from, arguing against speech we don't agree with, and protesting speech we deem to be offensive. If we are to challenge any system of influence or power, we need free expression protections to ensure that we can do so without fear of reprisal. Our right to free expression ensures that both our dissent and that of others is engaged through discussion and debate instead of censorship or punishment. It also contributes to the advancement of our knowledge by ensuring facts and opinions from a variety of perspectives and sources can be used to test our own and others' conclusions in pursuit of a better and deeper understanding of any topic (aclu.org).

What are its shortcomings?

The presence of free expression allows for misinformation and can make it difficult to get at the truth. A marketplace of ideas that includes evidence-based facts as well as opinions generated from perception does not necessarily provide a marketplace conducive to accurate analysis of a topic. Free expression can also contribute to a climate of diminished tolerance and increased discrimination, thereby limiting the possibilities of empathy and understanding. It can lead to chilling environments, particularly for communities or ideologies that do not align with and challenge aspects of the broader, dominant culture (pen.org).

What Do Students Think?

  • 90% agree that the First Amendment protects people like themselves
  • 81% support campus environments that expose students to all types of speech, even if they may find it offensive
  • 78% believe colleges should be able to restrict the use of racial slurs
  • 75% believe colleges should not be able to restrict expression of political views that are offensive to certain groups
  • 68% regard free speech rights as extremely important to democracy
  • 63% agree the climate on their campus deters free expression
  • 38% say something someone said on campus made them uncomfortable

Campus Expression Task Force (January 2021)

The Unique Role and Culture of Universities (March 17, 2021 presentation by Dean Price)