My Sunday morning Twitter feed flooded with a video that circled around campus. This video was not of a cute puppy dancing or the latest Taylor Swift song, but of a Penn State professor duking it out with the Willard Preacher.
For those who didn’t watch the video, which was also conveniently sent to my Penn State email account: in sum, it shows political science professor Errol Henderson telling the Willard Preacher, Gary Cattell, that he has no business preaching to Penn State students about how to live their lives. The two go at it for several minutes until the professor leaves, invoking a round of applause from students.
Some of my Twitter and Facebook friends proclaimed that the video brought laughter to their lazy Sunday morning. Others applauded the professor for sticking it to the preacher and his iconic red sweatshirt.
Whether you think justice was served or you just think it was comical to see two grown men arguing on a college campus as students video taped their altercation on their iPhones, I view it as a refreshing exercise of a right many take for granted — freedom of speech.
In so many places around the world, speech is limited.
In China, journalists are forbidden to write negatively about the country’s communist government. If they do, they run the risk of losing their jobs. In fact, a reporter who worked in China visited one of my classes and would not speak negatively of the government or censorship when questioned.
The reporter was in a safe space, a classroom thousands of miles from China, yet this person still did not feel comfortable speaking ill of the Chinese government.
This government control is not exclusive to China.
In Mexico, other journalists have been found dead in the streets the wake of a drug war. The drug cartels in Mexico frequently attack newspapers by tossing grenades at their installations or by killing, threatening or kidnapping journalists. Some journalists across Mexico have stopped covering the drug war entirely after their colleagues have come in contact with these cartels.
The First Amendment is cherished in the United States, and I think it’s something many take for granted.
The amendment that’s framed on the walls of the Carnegie Building is argued by some to be the most clearly worded amendment within the United States Constitution. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Our newspapers aren’t censored. Newspaper reporters and editors print the truth as it is — the good and the bad. At Penn State, we have the right to post pictures of our cat on a campus bulletin board. We can chat with potential “soulmates” on Tinder and can inform the Facebook world that we just grabbed lunch at Chipotle. Did you know that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked in China?
For the most part, Penn State’s campus is quiet. Few protests are held. Most of us put our heads down when we see people holding signs protesting sweatshops. We pretend we don’t see the men who try to hand us pocket-sized copies of the New Testament. We keep our iPods in as we walk into the Willard Building, tuning out Cattell’s speech about abstaining from alcohol on the weekends.
I think we should do the opposite.
We should listen to the thoughts of those around us, even if we think they’re insane. Some of the most liberal thinking can occur on a college campus for the sheer fact that it’s full of young people finding themselves while exploring the world around them.
There are plenty of outlets where students can express their voices.
After the Jerry Sandusky case broke, the Penn State Board of Trustees created a public comment section of meetings where students, alumni and other stakeholders of the university are encouraged to speak on matters. In the past several meetings, less than handful of students addressed the governing body of their university.
The University Park Undergraduate Association, which is allotted $140,000 from the student activity fee, also hosts a public comment session for students every meeting.
Few ever address the leaders they elected into office.
Students need to make the most of engaging in constructive conversation with one another, with their professors and others they may have dissenting opinions with.
My intention isn’t to encourage all of University Park to storm Old Main with burning signs, urging the administration to resign. Rather, I want people to realize how powerful simply expressing their thoughts and ideas can be.
Christina Gallagher is a junior majoring in journalism and is The Daily Collegian’s Wednesday columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.