First Amendment panel breaks down free speech

Black chairs filled the University Student Union ballrooms Wednesday night, but only half of the seats were filled. Meanwhile, a group of panelists sat facing the crowd and addressed one of the hottest topics on campus today — free speech.

The First Amendment panel took place Nov. 1 and was sponsored by the Know Your Rights campaign under Associated Students Inc. The intention of the panel was to inform students on what and what isn’t protected free speech.

Though turnout was low, fifth year sociology major Christiana Koch said the event was helpful.

“I’m new to the topic, so that’s one of the reasons I wanted to go,” Koch said. “I do wish the turnout was bigger because I know a lot of the students are asking these questions. Knowing these questions and knowing what’s in the rules and what’s outside of the rules and when you want to make a conscious decision about civil disobedience is helpful.”

James Sauceda, director of multicultural affairs, expressed that the First Amendment doesn’t come without its implications and consequences.

“There’s laws, there’s rules, but what I don’t hear [in] the discourse is the suffering,” Sauceda said. “The campus talks about procedures and rules and regulations which are necessary. But we have to talk about compassion. We have to talk about how broken we feel.”

Fernando Solorzano, chief officer of the university police department, talked about the difficulties of balancing the interests of two opposing viewpoints.

“As a law enforcement officer, I have to be neutral,” Solorzano said. “I have to understand the passions on both sides. I have to be there as a protector because I have to be able to protect the person who’s expressing himself just as much as the person opposed to their views.”

The issue of whether the campus is doing enough to protect oppressed groups was brought up by students on the panel.

“I think we need more support from the university,” graduate student panelist Victoria Villa said. “There’s a lot of talk of neutrality in the university and I understand where that perspective comes from especially when the university is protecting interest.”

Undergraduate student representative Courtney Yamagiwa suggested a reordering of priorities from the Cal State system.

“The university is making a statement that they would rather use their funds to support a speaker who is spewing hate and horrible kinds of rhetoric,” Yamagiwa said. “They are using the funds to bring in those kinds of security measures when they can be using those funds toward something else. There’s 1/10 CSU students who are homeless yet the university [system] is using funds to allow speakers like Milo to go out to their campus.”

The Milo Yiannopoulos event at Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday was further addressed by Larisa Hamada, director of the office of equity affairs, and Solorzano. Hamada said there was a great degree of stress within the Fullerton administration to protect students from third-party groups. Solorzano mentioned that 50 University of California officers showed up to help out.

Sauceda said he opposed the decision to increase police presence during the event, citing the fact that it didn’t lessen the amount of violence that occurred.

“I think we have a too militarized mindset,” Sauceda said. “I think another caution is are we over-militarizing our presence? Was that necessary from what little I’ve heard today – none of that presence kept people from hitting each other, jostling each other, using pepper spray. You can have hundreds of officers, but what does it actually [do]?”

Brian Garcia, a sixth-year international studies major, said that although the Fullerton event was controversial, he believed it was needed to create a circulation of ideas.

“I don’t agree with anything [Yiannopoulos] says, but I do believe it is important to have that event,” Garcia said. “If people don’t really agree with what he has to say, maybe have a panel discussion with Milo and other people [of a variety of opinions] … Censoring out what somebody has to say is not going to solve the problem at all because inevitably that’s what builds up echo chambers. If they can’t say it on campus, then they’ll find other platforms like social media.”

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