Several students raised concerns during public forum at the Wed., Jan. 20 Associated Students Senate meeting over what they see as a lack of support at the University of California, Santa Barbara for freedom of speech and free expression of opinion. The senate also accepted the resignation of two senators.
Fourth year political science major Jason Garshfield presented the underlying concern that, “[the] right of free expression is under threat here at UCSB.” Garshfield cited the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the California State Constitution, the California Education Code, University of California policy and the AS Constitution, claiming, “all of these guarantee the right of free expression to UCSB students, and they should because free speech is central to the purpose of the modern university.”
Garshfield’s concerns arose out of a recent “red light” rating given to UCSB by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The organization uses a three-tiered ranking system (red, yellow, green, with red being the lowest rating) to evaluate policies regarding student conduct at universities across the country.
The rating resulted from a letter the university sent out to incoming freshmen detailing the expectations for UCSB students to respect “the fundamental values and essential components of a productive, healthy and safe campus — namely, [UCSB’s] commitment to mutual respect, civility, decency and to a community free from violence of any kind, including sexual violence.” The letter goes on to encourage students to report instances that violate these values.
“Free speech is not a point of pride right now, it is a point of shame,” Garshfield said. “And we should all be ashamed of how our university has completely ignored the perfectly legitimate concerns of a perfectly legitimate civil rights organization.”
Garshfield proposed working with the senate to help draft a resolution in support of free speech as a first step in addressing the issues raised by FIRE’s red light rating and the lack of a response from the University.
“This will send a clear and concise message to the student body, to the administration, the faculty, that the AS Senate does care about the civil liberties of members of the UCSB community,” Garshfield said.
Garshfield also opposed the establishment of a Bias Response Team at UCSB, claiming it violated students’ freedom of speech by penalizing speech that might be considered offensive to certain groups.
Fourth year political science major Brandon Morse also spoke in support of free speech, urging the senate to consider Garshfield’s proposal.
“I may not agree with anything, or everything, that anyone of you says,” Morse added, “but I will certainly fight to the death to protect your right to do so.”
In response to the multiple invocations of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Off-Campus Senator Akshaya Natarajan mentioned that the history of constitutional rights has consistently been called into question many times when it has negatively affected marginalized groups, citing the U.S.’s history with the Jim Crow era and Japanese-American internment.
“With that history, and with countless more cases,” Natarajan asked, “do you think that marginalized groups on campus, therefore, don’t have any need to be protected by suggestions and policies that are in place to protect their day-to-day lives and their livelihood?”
Morse responded by saying that he believed free speech should protect everyone, including a marginalized group’s ability to speak out against those who offend them.
Additionally during public forum, On-Campus Senator Nawar Nemeh and College of Letters and Science Senator Stevan Abdalmalik both spoke on their decisions to resign from the senate.
Citing personal reasons and a desire to focus more on his academics and internship with the U.S. State Department, Nemeh offered parting words of caution to the rest of the senate.
“Being at this table, you have an extreme amount of power,” Nemeh said. “I don’t know how many of you know it, but you have the power to alleviate the struggles of human beings. That is an amazing power. I please ask you to weigh every single vote before you make it, to weigh it seriously in your heads as to how it will affect every student on this campus and every community.”
Abdalmalik also cited personal reasons for his departure before reading an excerpt from his letter of resignation.
“In a final farewell, I leave you with this final ask: continue to uphold what’s best in our university, our student body and, most importantly, of yourselves,” he said. “Hold yourselves to a higher standard, be inquisitive and, most importantly, be self-reflective and self-critical.”
Abdalmalik went on to clarify that the recent controversial swearing-in of two new senators played no role in his decision to resign.
Nemeh and Abdalmalik’s resignations were approved via a vote of 15-4-3.