UTSA president, Taylor Eighmy, sent out a university-wide email on Nov. 4 about protected speech on campus. In the email, Eighmy included a link to Section 51.9315 of the Texas Education Code, the law passed on Sep. 1, allowing any individual or group to indiscriminately utilize their First Amendment right to free speech and assembly at Texas public universities, by changing limited public forums into traditional public forums.

The reduced limitations on who is allowed on campus and what messages they can spread welcomes more problematic outside organizations like Love of Truth Ministries to openly display obscene images and distribute crass literature. Harrowing photos of bloody aborted fetuses like the ones seen on campus at the end of October will seem like child’s play compared to the messages other outspoken organizations could display during their visits to UTSA.

Not all “expressive activities” have to be in-your-face to get their point across, as we saw with the Active Minds’ Send Silence Packing exhibit, which was held a few days after Love of Truth Ministries’ intrusive event. The stigma surrounding mental health and suicide remains a highly sensitive topic for many, and Active Minds treated the subject appropriately with signs at every entrance of the exhibit, informing passersby of the sensitive content. This event by Active Minds represents the larger premise of informing people about sensitive topics while respecting those who are not ready for that conversation, giving individuals a choice instead of forcing information down their throats.

Yes, civic discourse can be beneficial in displaying many sides of a complex topic but only when it is done in a civil manner. Allowing a climate of mass conflict does not educate anyone or encourage unity within the community; it simply causes unnecessary stress and anger in those who would have discussed the subject amicably if approached in a more peaceful manner. However, that chance is rare with abrasive groups on campus. Without limitations to curtail polarizing and jarring activities on campus, we are sure to see more ordeals over controversial issues throwing the campus into disarray.

In short, this email is a message to students that the university is not legally obligated to care about protecting civil discourse. However, as members of the UTSA community, our role in maintaining the civility of campus climate still carries significant weight. Section 51.9315 outlines additional provisions for a grievance system to be established by the university for addressing reports of alleged violations of policies and procedures by a person or group on campus. University administration will continue to allow outside organizations to run rampant until it escalates into something bigger, and possibly even violent; at that point, it will already be too late. We must effectively communicate to UTSA administration that our concerns are valid and will not simply fade away. Rather than allowing our grievances to be passed on to the next class of students, we must be vigilant when the university is not maintaining an environment for constructive civic discourse.

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