First Amendment panel urges students to engage


Free Speech vs. Hate Speech Discussion Panel | Image courtesy of EWU Student Affairs

By Sarah Giomi , Staff Reporter

Faculty staff and students discussed free speech and hate speech in a panel on Thursday, Oct. 12 in the JFK library.

“Some believe we don’t have to provide a platform to others if we don’t like what they have to say, but that’s not true,” EWU Pride Center Manager and panel moderator, Dr. Nick Franco, said.

The panel members discussed and answered questions like: what is and isn’t free speech, what is legally protected, and what happened in Charlottesville?

To provide a general understanding to all panel participants and set the tone for the event, the event began by explaining the First Amendment and what the constitution includes, based on court case law.

“To model addressing activism on campus, we have to look at our community and the kind of community we want,” College of Social Sciences Senior Lecturer and panelist, Dr. Robert Bartlett said.

The panel explained that we have to decide what we believe in, what we are passionate about, and what we are going to do about it.

“Human beings create the world we live in. We don’t realize the equal power we have, but we have it,” Franco said.

Students on campus have the ability to be strong activists because they have resources to find other students with similar beliefs to be advocates together.

“Activism, largely led by youth, is the daily choices we make, when we listen and what we choose to do,” Bartlett said.

The recent riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, are an important example of negative activism, because of the amount of violence that occurred.  Also known as the Unite the Right Rally, the protest took place on Aug. 11 and 12, to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue honoring the Confederate General.

At 9 p.m. that evening, a heavily armed and well-organized group of white nationalists met a resilient and determined group of counter-protesters. A group of 30 University of Virginia students was determined to stop the rally.

The two groups had intentions of advocating their beliefs and making opinions public, which as American citizens is their right; however, the results of the rally and their actions, as discussed in the panel, were not acceptable nor supported by freedom of speech as documented in the First Amendment.

The freedom of speech does not include performing actions to harm others, obscene materials, or obscene speech, as supported by court case law.

“Thinking about what has happened, we need to channel passion to promote and prompt change,” said Franco.  

A student attending the event asked the panelists how youth can be advocates and encourage change.

“Be students- be active students, be active learners, be willing to engage in an active way,” said Franco.

Panelist Dr. Jessica Willis said, “Never be discouraged from the power of your own voice.”

The event was concluded with simple, yet important, ways to make a difference locally: self-reflecting on issues, sending letters to senators, engaging in the community and local clubs on campus, and voting.

The attendees wrote notes on the back of postcards that will be sent to students in Charlottesville as a reminder and message that they are not forgotten and Eastern Washington University students “stand with you.”