Last week, we saw yet another conservative speaker face a hostile reception at a left-wing university. This time, it was former college swimmer Riley Gaines, who delivered a speech at San Francisco State University criticizing transgender participation in women’s sports as unfair. Gaines was met with not just some peaceful protests, but also unruly mobs that allegedly trapped her in place for three hours. She also says she was physically assaulted by a male protestor.
Yet, somehow, SFSU has responded to this disturbing incident and claimed that “the First Amendment was honored.” One university official even praised the “peaceful protesters” and lauded their “bravery,” in a truly bizarre statement that conveniently omitted any mention of the alleged violent assault of a young woman.
“Dear SF State community,
Today, San Francisco State finds itself again at the center of a national discussion regarding freedom of speech and expression. Let me begin by saying clearly: the trans… pic.twitter.com/L6Q9OZkVvU
— David Llamas (@davidllamas_) April 8, 2023
This response is deeply concerning, as it both seems to paper over the harm that was seemingly done to Gaines and ignore the chilling effect such an incident, if not thoroughly addressed, will have on the college’s free speech climate. In light of this bizarre response by the university, it’s no surprise to see that the dedicated free speech watchdog the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) just wrote SFSU a letter calling on them to properly address the incident.
“It is clear from the events of that night that SFSU could have, and should have, done more to ensure its students were able to hold their expressive event on campus without such substantial disruption,” FIRE writes.
“As you must know, the First Amendment requires public universities like SFSU to protect student groups’ free speech rights by making good faith efforts to address disruptions to expressive events as they occur,” the organization’s letter to the university continues. “Failure to properly address such disruptions ratifies an unconstitutional ‘heckler’s veto’ and will only incentivize more threats to students’ freedom of speech and deter them from hosting potentially controversial speakers on campus.”
FIRE has offered to work with the university to improve their policies and prevent this kind of thing from happening again. They should take up that offer—and prepare to potentially face legal action from Gaines, as well.
— FIRE (@TheFIREorg) April 7, 2023
How SFSU handled this is a disgrace. University officials genuinely seem more concerned about the feelings of students who are upset by a mainstream opinion being expressed than about the young woman who was allegedly assaulted on their campus. And, unfortunately, it’s part of a bigger pattern of recent incidents where SFSU has failed to protect free speech, as they recently reportedly investigated a history professor for displaying a historically significant drawing of the prophet Muhammed.
We can’t allow public universities to continue on like this. They are entrusted with vast sums of taxpayer dollars. The absolute bare minimum we ought to demand in return is that they protect the constitutional rights of students, staff, and speakers.