What to Know Before Stepping on a College Campus
The graduation honoraria have all been spent, the dorm fridge has been purchased, the new roommate has been Instagram-ed, and now all that’s left is moving in. Congratulations. You made it to college. The next four years will be full of new experiences, new friends, new opportunities. . .and even a moment or three of learning something.
But, regrettably, a word of caution is in order, as more and more colleges and universities are tamping down on free speech and open inquiry. An estimated 250 public universities and 207 private universities have something called a Bias Reporting System, which is a mechanism for said universities to curtail free speech. BRSes are usually teams of administrators and students charged with receiving and assessing complaints about offensive speech or actions. But what’s deemed offensive is usually unclear, and it doesn’t have to necessarily be an action. Simply saying something that another person considers problematic can set off a BRS. And there is little, if any, due process. The accused doesn’t get to meet her or his accuser—and sometimes doesn’t even know what the substance of the complaint is. The accused simply receives a communication, often an email, stating that a complaint has been filed against the accused and the accused needs to show up at thus-and-such a time at so-and-so office. Usually an apology is demanded, and the consequences for not complying can be severe. It is an unjust system that violates the student’s rights.
The good news is that students can protect themselves. A communiqué demanding one show up in the Dean’s office may not be mandatory, so ask. Take an advocate along for any meetings and record everything that transpires—with all parties duly notified, of course. Keep a record of all correspondence. Keep a record of all correspondence. Keep a record of all correspondence. Keep a record of. . .well, you get the idea.
Consider shedding some sunlight on the proceedings. Use social media, write something in the campus newspaper, get the public involved. And if things really go south, contact someone like our friends at Speech First, who may be able to help you with things like legal counsel.
It really is your job to know your rights and advocate for them. Step onto that campus clear-eyed about what that looks like, and you’ll be well on your way to a college tenure that’s every bit as enjoyable as it should be.