Campus Speech Codes and Freedom Essay

September 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

Freedom of speech is one of the fundamentals of American society, where people value their right to express their opinion freely. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ensures people’s right to criticize others and reveal their ideas without the fear of being prosecuted or punished in any way. At the same time, this right is closely linked with a great responsibility to make sure that order will be safeguarded and people will respect each other (Lawrence III, 1989). Some argue that absolute freedom may be interpreted wrongly, which may lead to anarchy. These opposing views have been circulating for decades, and the introduction of campus speech codes has spurred the debate in recent years. The increasing level of violence and intolerance on campus has been regarded as the major factor that contributed to the development of specific speech codes (Lawrence III, Matsuda, Delgado, & Crenshaw, 2018). The central thesis of this paper is that campus speech codes do not violate free speech but help in establishing a favorable academic environment for all groups of students.

Modern American society is now characterized by quite a high degree of violence and intolerance. Numerous news reports show sad pictures of race-based violence, people’s rights violations, and the spread of radical ideas. American educational establishments are also characterized by such trends. For instance, Lawrence III et al. (2018) emphasize that up to 70% of minority students have faced some form of ethnoviolent harassment on campus. In many cases, this type of violence is manifested in the use of hate speech and verbal offenses. Students of color, as well as other minority groups, cannot feel safe in any place as they may be victimized. Lawrence III (1989) draws a line between the modern harassment on campus and the segregation that plagued the U.S. educational system in the past. Contemporary students may face offensive messages or even hate speech on campus, which often leads to the potential victims’ unwillingness to go to some zones. It is noteworthy that these zones can be extended to dormitory rooms.

Therefore, many educational establishments have come up with speech codes that regulate (to a certain extent) students’ behavior making it compliant with the principles of respect and tolerance. In order to evaluate these regulations’ effectiveness, it is necessary to consider their major features. Greenberg (2017) notes that the effort of educational facilities can be divided into three types: harassment policies, free speech zones, and policies (speech codes, civility codes, and bullying policies). Harassment policies usually come in the form of bans. Students are not allowed to conduct in a certain way and use some expressions. At that, the wording of these policies is rather vague (Greenberg, 2017). Free speech zones are often associated with protesting and activism. In some cases, these are specific locations for gatherings, while in the majority of cases, these are places where some activities are planned to be held. Speech codes prohibit the use of some expressions and words, but these policies are also rather broad, which still leads to the lack of proper enforcement.

As mentioned above, the use of such regulations is regarded as a violation of the First Amendment, according to which people have the right to express their opinions freely. The opponents of campus speech codes stress that these policies restrict students’ rights to express themselves. It is also argued that the codes are unlikely to be effective as it is impossible to provide a detailed description of all possible offensive messages and words (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2015). The effectiveness of enforcement is also doubtful.

Lukianoff and Haidt (2015) add that any codes and restrictions are counter-educational. In simple terms, students will be protected from the challenges they will have to face in their post-college years. When contemplating on the issues related to gender discrimination, Jacoby (1978) stressed that the debate over the need to impose codes led to harassment from liberals advocating for the introduction of these regulations. Ironically, those who fought for tolerance became aggressive and intolerant. Thus, some stakeholders see the establishment of speech codes as an ineffective and potentially harmful practice that can lead to the systemic violation of the basic rights of a democratic society.

However, the Amendment has been referred to in various controversial cases, which shows the gaps in its provisions. For instance, the case of R.A.V. v. St. Paul (1992) is a bright illustration of the vulnerability of the system. The case involved a group of teenagers who burnt a cross in an African American family’s yard (R.A.V. v. St. Paul, 1992). The defendants appealed to the First Amendment, stating that the adolescents’ actions were just a type of self-expression. Moreover, they stressed that there were no exact restrictions described in state or federal laws as to burning crosses. In short, the vagueness of the provisions of the U.S. Constitution Amendments leaves room for different interpretations and ways to avoid punishment. Clearly, the group of young people did not use offensive words or hate speech towards the family members, but they displayed one of the major symbols of segregation and race-related crimes. Moreover, this action can be regarded as a certain kind of intimidation or even a direct threat.

The imposed punishment is just and beneficial for society as the authorities’ failure to control such behaviors can result in unwanted activities. There are chances that similar acts, if unpunished, can encourage others to behave in a more brutal or violent way. No restrictions can make some groups feel free to break the laws of morality or the provisions of the existing legislation. In simple terms, securing people’s rights should not be a path to anarchy. Certain behavior is regarded as illegal, which is the basis of the order. Freedom of expression should also remain within certain boundaries as some groups or individuals may be willing to cross the line.

In order to avoid such vagueness of the First Amendment and associated adverse effects, it is possible to introduce specific codes where clear guidelines will ensure people’s responsible behavior. Of course, it is rather doubtful that the establishment of restrictions will force people to be more ethical as morality is the product of the transmission of certain values from the older generation to younger people. However, the introduction of codes and clear descriptions of what behavior (as well as speech) is unacceptable can be a part of this effort.

The opponents of speech codes often ignore the benefits of this effort as well as the major positive outcome, which is the establishment of the appropriate educational environment. Educators and policymakers try to ensure the development of the proper environment where all students have access to all educational opportunities (Bok, 1991). The growing level of violence is manifested on campus in different forms, including bullying. Students of color are major targets of these acts, which makes them vulnerable and less focused on their academic goals. The three types of restrictions mentioned above can help in addressing this issue. Speech codes should be widely used in educational settings on different levels.

For instance, the existing harassment policies are quite vague, which makes students and activists rather negative about their use (Greenberg, 2017). It is possible to improve such guidelines through the provision of cases illustrating some aspects of inappropriate behavior or speech. It can be beneficial to include lists of some words that cannot be tolerated in contexts other than educational. These instructions should be accompanied by extensive comments on meanings and connotations. Students should understand why some words or symbols are offensive (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2015). This knowledge is instrumental in making young people more responsible as some of them are unaware of the connotations of the words they might use or the things they do.

The development of speech codes can be another effective measure that can help educators and policymakers to ensure all students’ free access to educational opportunities. The lists of words that cannot be used and the description of their meanings and associated stories can reduce the use of hate speech. Some students often think that such attention to sensitive words and topics is excessive in the educational setting since the world outside colleges is characterized by these issues (Polumbo, 2018). Therefore, it is believed that in some contexts, such topics should be discussed.

For educational purposes, educators and students can discuss some topics and even use certain words in some settings. However, this discussion should be preceded by the instructor’s warning as to the content of their lesson. It is appropriate to make students share their opinions in the class to bring them closer to each other and make them understand each other’s views and pains. The lack of awareness is one of the primary factors leading to aggression and intolerance. In many cases, students simply do not understand the degree to which their actions can be harmful. The chance to speak freely in some situations can eliminate some students’ need to be verbally aggressive on campus. The ability to refer to some topics during classes is also a way to ensure students’ right to speak freely.

Finally, the creation of free speech zones can be one of the most effective measures to undertake. In some areas, students can express themselves in different ways, but this expression will still be regulated by the provisions of state and federal legislation and moral norms (Greenberg, 2017). These zones can be used for students’ protests as well as the discussion of sensitive issues. For instance, classes can be regarded as free zones in case the educator warns learners about possible words and ideas that can emerge during discussions.

Minority students will most benefit from the establishment of such zones as they will be protected from everyday exposure to unwanted experiences. Lawrence III et al. (2018) claim that even dormitory rooms are not safe zones for vulnerable groups. One of the illustrations of this situation is several students’ “prank” they played on their African American peers. They posted an offensive drawing on African American students’ dormitory room. This act was not punished as the regulations that existed at the university did not address such aspects. Again, the vagueness of laws and codes made vulnerable groups experience certain distress while no one was punished, which can be regarded as the lack of discouragement. Such “pranks” will be played with no reference to possible negative effects. Lawrence III (1989) stresses that the majority tends to tolerate such trends as many acts are regarded as quite harmless or not serious enough to discuss. The researcher also emphasizes that the burden of this tolerance is on minority students who suffer or have limited access to educational opportunities.


On balance, the introduction of speech codes and some other restrictions are necessary and in no way violates the First Amendment. Students of color have limited access to various educational opportunities due to the prevalence of intolerance or even violence. The development of codes containing detailed descriptions of the connotations and meanings can facilitate young people’s learning and make them more responsible. The discussion of some sensitive topics, as well as the use of some symbols and words, can be carried out during classes or in specific zones, which will make minority groups less vulnerable and secure students’ right to express themselves freely. It is clear that the young generation needs guidance, and educational establishments are one of the settings where moral values can be fostered. Students should understand why some words and behaviors are offensive and inappropriate. This can help in the development of a society where people respect each other and benefit from the differences they have.


Bok, D. (1991). Protecting freedom of expression on the campus. The Boston Globe. Web.

Greenberg, Z. (2017). Welcome to campus! Here’s your speech code. The Washington Times. Web.

Jacoby, S. (1978). A First Amendment junkie. The New York Times, p. C2.

Lawrence III, C. R. (1989). The debates over placing limits on racist speech must not ignore the damage it does to its victims. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Web.

Lawrence III, C. R., Matsuda, M. J., Delgado, R., & Crenshaw, K. W. (2018). Introduction. In M. J. Matsuda (Ed.), Words that wound: Critical race theory, assaultive speech, and the First Amendment (pp. 1-16). New York, NY: Routledge.

Lukianoff, G., & Haidt, J. (2015). The coddling of the American mind. The Atlantic. Web.

Polumbo, B. (2018). Liberal indoctrination on campus isn’t working. National Review. Web.

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