Concordia students spark discussion with free speech wall

Posted on Apr 20, 2016 in Justice Update, Latest Updates

Concordia students spark discussion with free speech wall

csfw2In March, Concordia students raised a free speech wall on campus in an effort to educate their peers about the importance of free speech to our universities.  The Concordia free speech wall was hosted by the student group Generation Screwed: Concordia, and was sponsored by the Justice Centre.

Students invited their peers to express their thoughts and opinions on the wall as an exercise of their free expression rights. They also gave out information about the state of free speech at Canadian public universities, measured in the Justice Centre’s 2015 Campus Freedom Index. The Index is the first report in Canada to measure and rank the state of free speech at Canadian public universities. With 220 grades awarded to 55 campuses, Canada’s universities and student unions received only eight ‘A’ grades.  Conversely ‘F’ grades were earned 41 times: 15 times by universities, and 26 times by student unions.
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The 2015 Campus Freedom Index ranks Concordia’s university and student union as among the worst five institutions in the country for upholding free expression on campus. Concordia University earns a ‘C’ grade for its policies and an ‘F’ grade for its practices.

Concordia failed to condemn the shutdown of a lecture at a nearby location on account of the threat of violent protests, and twice failed to defend free expression for two student groups in 2015. The Concordia Students’ Union (CSU) earns a grade of ‘D’ for its policies which fail to prevent the CSU from discriminating against clubs based on their views, fail to prohibit censorship during elections, and fail to limit the Students’ Union taking positions on issues other than those related to post-secondary education. The CSU earns an ‘F’ for its practices. It takes political stances on issues outside its mandate on behalf of the student body, most recently adopting a vote of a small number of students urging the cessation of relations with Israel in 2015. Further, CSU failed to speak out when a nearby event was shut down for fear of violent protests.

Claudio Tamburri and Jeremy Dohan  wanted to raise a free speech wall so they could engage with students on campus

Claudio Tamburri(R) and Jeremy Dohan(L) wanted to raise a free speech wall so they could engage with students on campus

Claudio Tamburri, a fourth-year Theatre major at Concordia and one of the organizers of the event, felt that his school should be doing more to protect free expression rights on campus. “We focus too much on trying not to offend anyone at Concordia. But in my field of study being able to express yourself freely is essential to learning. So many of the great works of literature, art and philosophy that we study now were censored in their day. If Shakespeare were alive today, I doubt he would want to study or perform at most North American college campuses–especially at Concordia.”

Claudio Tamburri, a fourth-year Theatre major at Concordia and one of the organizers of the event, felt that his school should be doing more to protect free expression rights on campus. “We focus too much on trying not to offend anyone at Concordia. But in my field of study being able to express yourself freely is essential to learning. So many of the great works of literature, art and philosophy that we study now were censored in their day. If Shakespeare were alive today, I doubt he would want to study or perform at most North American college campuses–especially at Concordia.”

Jeremy Dohan, a fourth-year History major and the president of Generation Screwed: Concordia, wanted to encourage students to think critically about issues such as public debt, which his club is raising awareness about. “Freedom of expression means the right to criticize our elected officials about the debt burden they are leaving our generation. Without free speech, how can citizens hold their governments accountable to them?”

“Censorship of ideas, especially controversial or unpopular ones, should have no place on a university campus. And yet our Campus Freedom Index reports numerous violations of free expression at Concordia,” stated Michael Kennedy, one of the authors of the Index.