Restricted Speech Codes in College

RestrictedSpeech Codes in College

TheUnited States Supreme Court has termed American colleges anduniversities as crucial centers for the intellectual life of thecountry. However, the reality on the ground is that most institutionshave strictly restricted open debate and free speech by use of speechcodes. A speech code is a rule or regulation that restricts orprohibits communication which would otherwise be protected by theFirst Amendment outside the campus boundaries (Kendall, 20). Thoseopposing certain regulation refer to them as speech codes, while theproposers/ supporters refer to it as a harassment policy. Pesteringcomprises of conduct that is directed at an individual, group orsociety based on their color, race, origin, sex, religion, sexualorientation, age, disability or veteran status, with the intention ofcreating a demeaning, offensive, hostile or intimidating environment(Lukianoff 17). Based on a 2015 survey by the Foundation forIndividual Rights in Education, almost 55 percent of the 437universities studied had policies that significantly and clearlyprohibited protected speech (FIRE). The enforcement of the speechcode in learning institutions is appropriate because it protectsminority groups from intimidation, prevents conflict and enhances auniform and conducive environment for acquiring knowledge.

First,the harm prevented by speech codes is more important compared to thefreedom that they restrict. For recipients of hate speech, the effectgoes beyond hurt feelings. Verbal attacks signify an oppressivediscrimination history that plagues the attacked students, hinderingtheir ability to compete in the academic arena fairly. Such asituation justifies the limitation of speech rights. Contrary tocritics of restricted speech codes, proponents argue thatuniversities present a forum where views are debated in a rationalargumentation and that students must learn how to rationally developand defend their opinions (Uelmen). Speech codes do not targetrational opinions because unlike hate speech they do not provokeviolence.

Asa society, it is often necessary to restrict speech especially if itis in conflict with the general purpose of an event or a forum. In auniversity whose primary purpose is the dissemination of education tostudents, hate speech must be outlawed because it contravenes thisobjective by reducing the ability of the students to learn in afriendly environment. Restricted codes also tend to solve theconflicts between the right to speak freely and the rights toeducation. According to Foundation for Individual Rights inEducation, all students are entitled to both of these rights, thoughthose exercising their free speech rights may infringe on the rightto education of others when they espouse intimidating or hatefulwords. As stated earlier, this ends up interfering with the learningatmosphere, eventually impeding the abilities to learn and earn aneducation.

Inaddition, homophobic, sexist, or racist remarks only serve to silencethe voices of other people. In a university, such speech interfereswith victims’ opportunities to pursue equal educationalopportunities with others, and at the same time deters them frombeing able to exercise other freedoms including those provided in theFirst Amendment. When faced with hate speech, lots of victims opt toremain silent or flee rather than engage in conversation or dialogue.At the onset of this paper, it was stated that colleges anduniversities are vital centers for the intellectual life of thecountry because they provide room for dialogue which is key inlearning and gaining new knowledge. According to Lukianoff, studentsengage in dialogue with each other, challenge one another andgenerate new ideas, and this forms a complete learning process (156).However, hateful, intimidating, and offensive speech always keepssuch exchanges at bay and promotes silence among the non-dominantindividuals. This kills the learning process.

Speechcode also constitutes a moral requirement for the fair resolution ofconflicts of civil rights. At the core of the conflict lies the factthat students who are under-represented may not be in a position toclaim fair and equal access to their rights in an environment of thepower imbalance between them and the majority students. For instance,a black student shouting an epithet to a white student may onlyprovoke anger, unlike humiliation and institutional fear if the samecomments were shouted to a Jewish student by a white student.According to Uelmen, history has shown that the power of hatefulwords is amplified when they come from people in power and abridgedif spoken by those considered less powerful.


Discriminationamongst university and college students has been an escalatingproblem whose future is uncertain. Whether speech codes are moralresponses to intolerance depends on the manner in which societyinterprets the harm imposed by discriminatory harassment, benefitsand costs of restrictions and the balance between individual andgroup rights. All in all, since discourse codes are capable ofindirectly controlling hate speech, professionals in student affairsmust stay vigilant and responsive to the experiences of individualswho have been victimized by harassment. In addition, they must bemindful of court interpretations of relevant codes, while working toprotect and maintain the integrity of their students and otherinhabitants of their campuses. It is critical to note that codesalone may not solve racist, homophobic, sexist or other forms of hatespeech problems.


Foundationfor Individual Rights in Education. Spotlighton Speech Codes 2012: The State of free Speech on our Nation’sCampuses.Web. Accessed 11th November 2016

Kendall,D. Sociologyin our Times.Boston, Cengage Learning. 2015. Print

Lukianoff,G. UnlearningLiberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.New York, Encounter Books. 2014. Print

Uelmen,Gerald. Campus Hate Speech Codes.Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.Web. Accessed 11thNovember 2016