F.I.R.E and the Future of Campus Free Speech -Clay Warnke

As Americans we take for granted this idea of “freedom”, however, “taking for granted” is one freedom we don’t have if we are in fact to remain free. This is made abundantly clear in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty.” Vigilance, according to Merriam-Webster is, “To be vigilant,” that is, “alertly watchful especially to avoid danger.” Even today this idea still remains important as our rights and freedoms come under attack, if even in the subtlest of ways. There is one such freedom under attack here at Clemson, one whose protection ensures that the rest may follow. Your right to freedom of expression, outlined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution is quietly being challenged. The good news is that someone is doing something about it. Clemson’s own Young Americans for Liberty, along with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), have taken up the cause of vigilance. FIRE along with YAL hope to ensure that Clemson be the best, including as a champion of personal rights.
The Young Americans for Liberty, a student activist group on campus, has tirelessly promoted free speech. It became clear to the Young Americans for Liberty, given current issues on campuses nationwide that freedom of speech was under a direct attack in the guise of “diversity”, “inclusion”, and “tolerance.” The President of Clemson Young Americans for Liberty, Clayton Warnke, knowing that FIRE is a partner of YAL as well as experts in the area of speech issues on campus, began to investigate. FIRE, as alluded to prior, is an organization that advocates for First Amendment rights at public colleges and universities. In an effort to combat encroachments on these rights FIRE reviews policies on the books at public institutions nationwide, grading them on a scale FIRE calls “Spotlight.” This scale works like this, there are three levels Red, Yellow, and Green, just as in a traffic light. According to FIRE’s website, “A “red light” institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” A “yellow light”, “A “yellow light” institution is one whose policies restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression.” Last, “If a college or university’s policies do not seriously imperil speech, that college or university receives a “green light.”” Clemson rates poorly on this scale receiving a speech code rating of red.
The President of YAL, upon this discovery on FIRE’s website contacted FIRE to better understand the policies of Clemson University and how they imperiled and/or restricted free speech on campus. An Azhar Majeed, a representative from FIRE responded via email with this, “I am actually already in touch with a student at Clemson about these issues, and he has started to contact members of the university administration to see whether they would be willing to change those policies along the lines that FIRE recommends.” This student was and is in fact Mr. Robert Gunter, a Junior Civil Engineering major here at Clemson, who is also a Senator in the Student Government at Clemson. Much to the delight of YAL Mr. Gunter has already drafted a letter outlining the issues with one specific policy known as the “Bias Incident Response Protocol.” This specific policy is labeled as a “yellow light” policy and the Red Light policy has yet to be taken up.
YAL along with other student groups dedicated to the preservation of our First Amendment rights, such as Young Americans for Freedom and Turning Point USA are currently working together to combat these issues going forward. If we are to remain a legitimate institution of higher learning, it is incumbent upon all of us here at Clemson to resist these usurpations of our rights.