It’s all over Facebook and other social media sites, nearly one hundred thousand views about a Free Speech Zone controversy which began after a confrontation between students and Southern Oregon University staffers on Tuesday, October 7th. Four students, representing Students for Concealed Carry gave out copies of the constitution in front of The Hawk which is not considered a Free Speech Zone by University policy. SOU has designated specific locations for public demonstration which they refer to as Free Speech Zones.
The students were asked to move from their location by several different members of the Southern Oregon University staff but maintained that they had a right to be there and would not be moving. Additionally, they recorded their interactions on cell phone video which appears on Fox News and other media outlets. The students claimed they were threatened when SOU staffers said they could call the police. The police, however, were never called and the protestors left on their own later in the day without incident.
Throughout the interaction various SOU staffers are heard asking the students to leave and redirecting them to the Free Speech Zone saying some residents of the dorm were uncomfortable and restating the University policy. In one such interaction you hear a man later identified as campus housing supervisor, Tim Robitz, asking the students, “Other groups come on campus and cause disruption. Would you want the KKK here?” The Constitution carrying students eventually reply that they are on a sidewalk at a public university and they have the right to be there and would not move.
We approached both the University President and media relations representative for reaction. “We need to have freedom of speech”, President Roy H. Saigo spoke passionately on the issue when questioned. A Japanese internment camp survivor, Saigo says he knows all too well about freedom of speech and the constitution, “If anybody has any questions about my support for freedom of speech and the Constitution they should come talk to me.” Ryan Brown, SOU Media Relations echoes his statement saying, “The administration is looking forward to address speech issues on campus and work together on development in practice relating to free speech on campus.”
There are mixed views as expressed on the SOU Facebook page, “Sorry you have to deal with this SOU. This became political for no reason.” Another student says, “The rules are in place to ensure safety, privacy and comfort for SOU on campus residents.”
Another quote says, “It doesn’t look like liberal colleges support freedom anymore unless, of course, it aligns with their agenda.’ And another, “You can start by recognizing the entire United States of America is a free speech zone from sea to shining sea.”
President Saigo says the University plans on having meetings and conferences to discuss possible changes to the Free Speech Zone policy.