Fighting discrimination and protecting the First Amendment on campus, not a zero sum game

Combating discrimination means clamping down on free speech. Upholding the First Amendment means anything goes on campus.  Encouraging civil discourse and condemning when debate becomes hate is bubble-wrapping students.

With college and high school commencement time upon us, stories emerge daily that student safety measures come at the expense of free speech and critical thinking.  Preventing discrimination and protecting the First Amendment, however, should never be at odds. They are not competing issues.  Both are paramount responsibilities of a university. Schools must do both and they can.

A close look at the evolution of a recently adopted intolerance policy at the University of California (UC) is a case in point.

A few years ago, UC students, parents, faculty and community members began sharing troubling accounts. Jewish property was vandalized with swastikas after students spoke in favor of Israel, Jewish students on multiple campuses were questioned about their eligibility to hold office and vote on Israel-boycott measures simply because of their religion, and Israel and Jews were blamed for 9/11.  “Hitler did nothing wrong,” “Zionists to the gas chamber” and “grout out the Jews” were found on multiple California campuses in the wake of heated anti-Zionist BDS campaigns.

As a university instructor by trade, free speech is something I hold dear.  Discourse and disagreement on the Middle East or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is appropriate.  Debate on these issues and others, particularly those that hit a nerve, belong on a college campus.  In fact, there’s no better place for such discussions. Protecting free speech is paramount.  However, as the director of a non-profit that monitors and combats campus anti-Semitism, I know protecting safety, fairness and equal access to education is too.

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