YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Several policies on the campus of Youngstown State University are coming under fire by a national First Amendment advocacy group.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, using the website thefire.org, analyzes speech policies on universities across the country and grades them green light, yellow light or red light. FIRE said its mission is to make students and universities aware of policies that are not in line with the rights granted by the First Amendment.
YSU is one of 10 Ohio universities to receive red light ratings from the agency for at least one policy.
FIRE said its concern is with several anti-harassment policies that ban “offensive” speech. They said “offensive” is too broad a term and the university could use it to restrict speech that is actually protected by the First Amendment.
Students on campus Thursday had differing opinions on the issue.
“To me, personally, not really. I mean, people should have as many rights as they’re supposed to have and not be impeded upon,” said junior Jaclyn Sampson. “People are pretty much open to saying whatever. It’s pretty decent around here. I don’t feel like I am being judged too much.”
But she is concerned about some university policies that could affect her First Amendment rights.
“Sometimes they go a little bit too far and they make you a little worried about what to say and you’re afraid to say stuff,” Sampson said.
Sophomore Zach Gibson doesn’t have a problem with the policies.
“I feel like there should be no harassment because bullying is a big thing nowadays and I think that’s wrong,” Gibson said.
University spokesman Ron Cole said YSU makes a point of allowing students to speak freely.
“I think if you come on campus, you’re going to find very quickly that we have a very open environment,” Cole said.
But, he also stressed that limiting speech that might offend is important to the university climate.
“We want to make sure the exchange of those ideas are done within the confines of respect and integrity, and those kinds of things. So it’s kind of a balance,” Cole said.
Sampson said she sees where Cole is coming from, but also wants to make sure her First Amendment rights are protected.
“There should be some middle ground where it’s like putting some rules into play but not so far that people are afraid to say what they want to say,” Sampson said.