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Free Speech: Vol States Public Speakers

By Madelyne VanHemert

Public speakers on the Volunteer State Community College campus have attracted attention amongst students and faculty.

“Since we are an educational institution I think it’s important that we have outside speakers come and offer a variety of viewpoints for our students. It allows our students to see that there are a lot of ways to learn,” stated Renee’ Eades, Associate Professor of English.

In the state of Tennessee, colleges are considered public forums, meaning any speaker can come onto a college campus and be a public speaker without being invited. 

Some colleges including Vol State have what is known as a “free speech zone”, which indicates only some parts of the campus will allow an uninvited public speaker, however, the state of Tennessee rejects this policy. 

“ …it allows for expression of multiple viewpoints, and it gives students the ability to think critically about what they’re hearing. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we promote the viewpoints of those who are speaking, but it gives an opportunity for expression to those who may or may not have a voice elsewhere,” said Eades.

The First Amendment protects free speech, and in the state of Tennessee even if you disagree with the speaker, there is nothing that can be done. 

The First Amendment does not make an exception for hateful speech. The limits to freedom of speech include: obscenity, child pornography, defamatory speech, false advertising, true threats, and fighting words. 

“Freedom of speech is about allowing someone to speak their mind. However, the challenge is when that speech crosses the line into hate speech rather than academic discourse. So it’s up to us, as an educational institution, to keep that in mind, as we choose to allow speakers to come to our campus,” said Eades.

Speakers appeared at Vol State on Sept. 7, 2023, and more to come.

“This notice is to inform the campus community of an outside speaker scheduled to be on our Gallatin campus Thursday, October 26 from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.,” stated an email from Tami Wallace, the Directory of Office of Marketing, Communications, and Media Servies.

“I think it’s unnecessary because it causes chaos. Their approach to it is very…it’s like speakers want to cause an uproar. If they were more educational it would be more tolerable. It’s all about the approach,” said VSCC student Anna Bradshaw.

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