At private college institutions in the U.S., students do not have the freedom of speech that is assumed by all.
According to the Pacific Lutheran University Freedom of Expression policy:
“Every student has the right to express a personal opinion as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others, disrupt community or university functions, or otherwise violate university policy, or local, state or federal laws.”
Recently, a popular Facebook page, formally known as “PLU Confess & Misc,” had to change its name to “People.Let.Ur voices be heard Confess & Misc.”
Senior David Leon, who started and administrates the page, created it as an outlet for students to air their frustrations anonymously.
“Personally for me, I hate censorship of any type,” Leon said. “My goal for the page was to not censor anything. I wanted people to post the most vile, repugnant things they could think of, and the most happy, humorous things they could think of.”
Having a confession page is nothing new to PLU. Leon said two other pages existed before his but he doesn’t know why they were deleted.
Leon uses SurveyMonkey for his page so people wanting to “confess” anonymously can do so. The survey responses are then pulled by the page administrators and posted for public viewing and comment.
Content from the page, including public comments, mostly by PLU students, can get a bit heated.
Senior Frank Edwards was a frequent commenter until he was banned by the administrators of the page.
“I was disappointed the admins chose to ban me, but I certainly wasn’t surprised,” Edwards said. “That sort of behavior is typical of liberal students and has come to be status quo. If you don’t agree with their point of view you’re accused of being all sorts of horrible things.”
Edwards was one of many students who chose to publicly comment on the anonymous posts and soon found his views to be in the minority. He was often slammed by other viewers.
“If the same students who pride themselves in their activism and having a ‘voice’ are the first to censor an opposing view, who then, is the real bigot?” Edwards said.
Leon said that he “didn’t have a rubric” for what was posted on the page, but he’s blocked people from commenting “for the protection of the community.”
Leon was recently subjected to conduct meetings with the administration concerning the page and its content. Student Rights and Responsibilities did to Leon what Leon did to Edwards.
Leon was called in for posts made before school started. “It dealt with some sensitive information. Some people within the PLU community commented and I commented, and it just blew up into this crazy thing,” Leon said.
While Leon could not elaborate, he did say the post was about sexual assault.
“I think a lot of times, students feel a little bit more free to say whatever they want on those pages, which is great since students have every single right to express themselves in whatever way they want to,” Associate Director for Student Rights and Responsibilities, Connie Gardner said. “Where I think it comes into some problematic, gray area is when the comments or the language used could infringe on another person’s rights.”
While there is no university-sanctioned alternative to venting frustrations anonymously, Gardner assures there are no PLU officials patrolling social media.
“If it was brought to our attention by a student that says ‘hey this was really bothersome for me, here’s why,’ we do look into it,” Gardner said.
While Leon was unaware of the recent name change of the page because he stepped down from being an administrator, it may have to do with his recent conduct meetings with administrators.
Private colleges are not state actors and therefore the First Amendment does not stop them from enacting speech-restrictive policies. Institutions like PLU are in their full right to demand students take down Facebook pages that relate to PLU or its likeness.
“Student Conduct came down on me and told me you need to step down and you need to evaluate your position at PLU and how this page represents PLU and you as a student of the community,” Leon said.