By Ravleen Kaur
During the past few weeks, Portland State’s College Republicans student group has found itself at the center of a proverbial storm, freshly igniting time-tested debates about free speech at the university.
In late May, the group sponsored two separate events that caused a stir: a talk by activist Nonie Darwish, who has been widely described as a vocal critic of Islam, and a screening of the documentary Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.
Several students at the events charged the film and speaker with promoting racist rhetoric. A video of the confrontation after the film screening has received significant online media attention, stacking up nearly 20,000 views on YouTube as of Thursday.
“Both events made a huge distinction between the majority of Muslims and the radical strain,” said Julia Rabadi, president of the College Republicans. “[Darwish] said this isn’t about [Muslim] people, this is about an ideology.”
Members of the Muslim Student Association, among others, spoke out against the events.
“Islam is about mercy, peace, love, compassion. These words are the very opposite of what Nonie Darwish preaches and teaches others,” said member Sadaf Assadi.
Tensions ran high in both groups. Some Muslim students were worried that the events could incite violence and were concerned for their own safety on campus. A few weeks before the event, one Muslim student was assaulted in Smith Memorial Student Union and her hijab was pulled off, according to several students.
“We met with many of the people who were upset to let them know that we cannot stop an event because they find the content hurtful,” said Aimee Shattuck, director of Student Activities and Leadership Programs. Shattuck explained that Supreme Court cases have set a precedent that the First Amendment applies to student organizations.
At the same time, the College Republicans said they felt unsafe at their own event. Group members described a climate on campus that was hostile to their viewpoints.
“This campus is not tolerant of free speech if you disagree with the majority,” Rabadi said.
. . .
Portland State University College Republicans screened the film “Obsession” this week at a campus event. The film focuses radical Islam’s fascination and war with western civilization. During the screening a large contingent of socialists and Muslims stormed into the room and interrupted the show. The Islamo-leftists intimidate and shout down the College Republicans, effectively bullying them out of their own campus event.
Then the videographer was escorted out of the public event.
From: PSU Info <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Message from President Wiewel on campus free speech
Date: June 5, 2013 9:56:29 PM PDT
In recent days, events organized by a student group have triggered vigorous reactions from other students, and I view this campus tension as an opportunity to clarify our rights and responsibilities as members of the Portland State community.
One of PSU’s student-sponsored campus organizations held separate events in late May featuring a speaker and a film on jihadist threats. These events drew protests that the content was inflammatory and discriminatory against Muslims. The debate has intensified in recent days over the limits of free speech and how the university should respond to speech that is offensive to some members of our campus community.
Portland State University respects and supports your right to express your political and social views. Free speech -- even when it is offensive -- is protected by the First Amendment. In fact, valuing a robust debate of ideas is the underpinning of a liberal arts education at a public university. The best response to speech that is offensive is not to stifle the speaker but to answer with counter speech and dialogue. At the same time, we also are responsible for keeping our campus community safe from fear and intimidation, and we ask that you express views in a way that respects others. Free speech imparts both rights and responsibilities on us all.
All student organizations are required to follow the policies and procedures of the Student Activities and Leadership Program in order to receive student funding. In addition, PSU’s Student Code of Conduct prohibits harassment, vandalism, inciting violence and similar misconduct. University staff members work hard to ensure that these rules are followed by those organizing and participating in all campus events. Even if you disagree with the content of these events, organizers have a right to sponsor them -- and others have a right to protest these events – as long as all involved adhere to PSU’s policies.
Portland State is a diverse community representing cultures, religions and political views from across the globe. What brings us together is our commitment to providing educational opportunities for all students. To do that, we must be mindful of both our rights and our civility.
We also have a duty to maintain a safe environment and culture of respect, and I encourage students to contact the Dean of Student Life and encourage faculty and staff to contact the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion if you feel unsafe or unwelcome at PSU.
President Wim Wiewel