Jaimes: It’s up to us to exercise our free-speech rights

Students who choose silence over voicing their opinions play their own part in the larger problem of free speech on college campuses, both at UI and across the country.

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Wyatt Dlouhy

The Old Capitol building is seen in 2018.

Marina Jaimes, Opinions Editor

On Feb. 7, college students from all around Iowa traveled to Des Moines to advocate on behalf of free-speech legislation on college campuses. According to the proposed bill, “The institution must strive to ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression allowed under the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

Advocacy for the bill came almost immediately after a federal court determined that the UI had discriminated against the Christian group Business Leaders in Christ. It found that the UI unfairly stripped the group of its registered student-organization status for requiring its leaders to abide by a statement of faith.

Even before this controversy, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education gave the UI a speech-code rating of yellow, meaning that universities in this category have “at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.”

RELATED: Rosario: Campus free speech controversy is oversimplified

Both the foundation and a federal court have found that the UI has some disregard for the free speech of its students. Bills, such as the one proposed, immensely help students exercise their First Amendment rights, but there’s only so much that legislators in Des Moines can do to protect free speech on campus.

By now, many students, faculty members, and readers of The Daily Iowan have been exposed to my political views. Something as simple as a pink-elephant sticker on my laptop has identified me as an ally to conservative students on campus. As much as I value that students can trust in voicing their opinion to me, I am reminded that confiding only in members of your echo chamber does nothing to encourage dialogue of a variety of ideas on campus.

I understand how intimidating it can be to voice your unpopular political opinion. I came into college as a Catholic, conservative, pro-life voter during the 2016 presidential election. I knew my opinions would be widely disliked and avoided talking politics whenever I could. Until I joined the College Republicans chapter at the UI,  I never felt comfortable expressing my thoughts to others.

RELATED: Free-speech bill moving through Iowa Senate following court ruling against UI

I quickly got over this shyness and voiced my views to the world during an interview on “Fox & Friends.” I was given air time to critique an article written for the DI. A few months later, an email from then-Editor-in-Chief Grace Pateras appeared in my inbox, and I transitioned from activist to columnist, an experience I’m forever grateful for.

It wasn’t until I began writing for the DI that I realized it was up to me to begin a conversation. I was given the opportunity to write for a newspaper that championed diversity and sought writers with unpopular political opinions. I was not rejected for my beliefs, I was welcomed.

Now, I understand that by silencing my own ideas, I enabled others to believe that there was only one way to think or vote. College is an opportunity for growth, so it would be a disservice to me to not have my beliefs challenged or challenge those of others. I’ve ventured out of my echo chamber and found that my ideas aren’t always liked, but have made others reconsider their stances on arguments — this is all I can ask for.

So, to all the lone conservatives on campus, it’s on you. Judges and legislators in Des Moines have done what they can to ensure that every voice is equally protected on campus, but now it’s up to you to express the rights your classmates and professors take full advantage of. Your opinions won’t be liked, but you’re better off taking a stand for yourself than waiting for a seat at the table to open up for you.

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