The Carrier’s editorial opinion represents the views of the senior members of the Campus Carrier and Viking Fusion news staff.
Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, put it best when he said, “With great power, there must also come…great responsibility.”
As students at Berry, we are constantly standing up and fighting for our First Amendment rights, specifically those of free speech and expression. We express these rights with words, with emails, and even with chalk. These are our privileged rights, and as we accept the “great power” of these rights, we must also accept the “great responsibility” that comes with them.
Freedom of expression is given to us as a right so that we may express ideas meant to bring about needed change or rally in opposition against regulations that we feel silence populations, stifle creativity, or limit our pursuit of equality and justice. However, just as frequently as we see valid expressions of free speech on campus, we see the misuse of these precious rights.
For example, when the chalk expressions began appearing all around campus, the words, “Love is love is love is love…” were written down the front Cage steps in support of the LGBTQ community. These words were later defaced and changed to read, “Love penis love penis love penis…” It is this kind of malpractice of rights that encourage our administration to formulate restrictions on free speech. It is this kind of wasted responsibility that diminishes the validity of our fight for our First Amendment rights.
We have reason to demand rights of free expression, however, how can we expect administration to stand for such perversions and misapplications and to support our call for improvements within the Viking Code when we are openly disrespecting our rights?
In a previous Our View article, “First Amendment flaws in the Viking Code,” we explored some of the faults found in the Viking Code regarding freedom of expression, including vague statements allowing for inconsistency of what qualifies as free speech within the Berry community. Because Berry is a private school, the administration does not have to abide by the United States Constitution, which gives them authority to craft and alter free speech on campus as they see fit. We called for administration to uphold the responsibility that comes with narrowed free speech restrictions.
However, the responsibility does not end with the administration; this responsibility is personal, for every member of the Berry community. It is our duty as First Amendment holders to use our voices in the most productive and meaningful fashion.
Growing up, many of us can recall hearing our parents tell us, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
As simple and childish as that phrase may seem now, it continues to apply to how we can respect the responsibility before us. Our speech is designed to express ourselves, but also to defend our fellow citizens, not to harm them. Like that simple phrase, sometimes our responsibility is to “not say anything at all.” Not every moment or action deserves to be followed by expression, so our responsibility extends not only from using meaningful language but to knowing when silence is the acceptable alternative.
Our valuable expressions will become increasingly meaningful as the unavailing and irrelevant commentary falls away. Our rights will achieve stability only when we take it upon ourselves to use them in thoughtful ways.
Our picking and choosing of right and wrong expression will not stand up to the test of valid, thought-provoking speech. Therefore, let us not waste our precious rights. Let us call for the change that we see needed on campus, stand up for the groups whose voices are being silenced, and utilize our rights to the full extent. But, let us not become reckless in our use of expression.