Is Speech On Campus Really Free? How Pro-Life Views Are Stifled By Universities

There is a certain pride that comes with being a University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill student, and we are about as Carolina blue-blazing as they come. Take one look at the excessive UNC apparel in our wardrobes, the bumper stickers on our cars, or the smiles we get whenever someone says “Chapel Hill,” and it is clear just how honored we are to attend our institution. However, as “Tar Heels born and Tar Heels bred,” we are concerned that free speech at UNC may soon be dead — at least for pro-life Tar Heels.

In spite of the fact that UNC-Chapel Hill has historically painted itself as a “diverse place, making room for an array of different viewpoints,” as Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz stated recently, pro-life students on campus are essentially being told “except for you” — and unfortunately, it is our peers leading the charge against us.

Taliajah Vann, our student body president, recently issued an executive order that specifically targeted pro-life speech, as she prohibited the Undergraduate Student Government Executive Branch from contracting or funding any individual, business, or organization that is openly pro-life. In addition, Vann announced that her administration would be sponsoring a “Redirect the Rage Rally,” a march that is explicitly pro-abortion.

While Vann clarified that the executive order would not affect the funding of our Students for Life of America (SFLA) group, her attempt to placate outside media attention did not work on us. Funding is not the problem — promoting a hostile environment for students who hold different beliefs, however, certainly is.  

Instead of upholding UNC’s commitment to intellectual diversity, Vann’s executive order has allowed a governing student organization to take sides in a political debate (although ending the life of a preborn child shouldn’t be political). While we respect the personal opinions of all Tar Heels, the expectation of a student government is to remain neutral in outside politics; by choosing to take such divisive action, they are foregoing holistic representation and severing off parts of the student body.

Unfortunately, this student government-sanctioned attack on speech is only the tip of the iceberg. A recent study conducted across eight UNC-system campuses found that at UNC-Chapel Hill, 74% of conservative students said they were concerned their peers would have lower opinions of them if they expressed their political views — for example, being pro-life — and 57% were concerned their professors would have lower opinions of them. In addition, more than 40% of conservative students worried their grades would be negatively affected by advertising their political beliefs, whereas only 7% of liberal students were concerned.  

As a background for these students’ fears of ostracization, the study also showed that while conservative students leaned toward an indifference of ideology when making friends, liberal students reported a preference for being close friends with other self-identifying liberals over conservatives.

With such concerns over making friends, experiencing potential disdain of fellow classmates and professors, and receiving biased grades, it is no wonder that more than 40% of conservative students at Chapel Hill reported self-censoring at least once. That’s a sad number for a school that claims “respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints” is the bedrock of its institution.

Additionally, while UNC-Chapel Hill has won awards for many different reasons, it was recently handed a not-so-honorable mention when it landed on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s  10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech: 2022 list.

The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees University Affairs committee did recently address concerns and passed a resolution affirming UNC’s commitment to freedom of speech. However, without any real action, a resolution is at best just a nice thought and at worst a collection of empty words.

We truly love being called UNC students because UNC is more than just its name; it is a place of rigorous academics, rich history, meaningful research, and beauty. Behind its prestigious title, UNC is worthy of the pomp and circumstance — but, due to recent events, we must seriously discuss whether free speech on campus isn’t being allowed to similarly live up to its name.

After all, when conservative and pro-life students are afraid to use their free speech because of rampant and condoned hostility on campus, is it really free?

In order for free speech at UNC to once again become more than a shell of a word or a drop-in line for compliance purposes, the university needs to stop actively condoning the silencing of pro-life voices — starting with the rectification of Vann’s executive order, which intentionally seeks to intimidate pro-life students. Until obstacles to free speech such as this are removed, UNC-Chapel Hill students’ First Amendment rights will continue to be stifled.

Abigail Buxton and Brianna Shobert are co-presidents of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Students for Life of America group. Buxton is a sophomore and Shobert is a senior at UNC.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the authors and not necessarily those of The Daily Wire.

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