Loyola Marymount University student Stephanie Martinez is exactly what schools seek in admissions. She is politically and socially active. She has been involved in the school’s governance and community, including serving at the government senator for diversity and inclusion. She is also conservative. That last element proved unacceptable recently when fellow students impeached her after a three-hour proceeding because she expressed her opposition to illegal immigration on social media. While a few students protested, other students mocked the outcry and the coverage on sites like The College Fix. One student is quoted on social media as saying “it’s a f***ing seat on a random student government senate. Why are these old white people so upset!?” The answer is something that is becoming less and less of a concern on campuses: free speech.We have seen other students recently subjected to similar actions by their student governments or by fellow editors on student newspapers. Free speech is under attack across the country and polling shows a falling level of support for free speech among students. The actions taken against openly conservative or libertarian students are having an impact on both students and faculty who are self-censoring to avoid similar attacks.In this case, the student government is acting to counter Martinez’s views on immigration. In one of the offending postings, Martinez wrote “The same people advocating for rights, equality, and better conditions for illegal aliens are the same one censoring freedom of speech (a right), defaming and initiating hostility for those Americans with divergent views! Sad!” It proved a prophetic and ironic posting for Martinez. Fellow Diversity and Inclusion student Senator Camille Orozco cited such statements as the basis for impeachment under Article 8 in the student body bylaws as “conduct that severely damages the integrity or authority of ASLMU or the office held by the individual in question.” Orozco dismissed the obvious crackdown on free speech by declaring conclusorily that it is not about free speech but “conduct which has severely damaged the integrity, or authority of ASLMU or the office held by Senator Martinez.” But the “conduct” was the free speech. That is how easy it is to strip away any tolerance for opposing viewpoints. Orozco argued that the views of Martinez hurt the relationship of the student government with immigrant groups.The most glaring moment came when Director of Free Speech & Expression Robyn De Leon rose to speak. This is the person who is supposed to protect free speech and expression but spoke in favor of removing someone on the basis of her opposing viewpoints. According to one article, De Leon said that Martinez is not protected for her “very alienating of unrepresented and marginalized communities” and cited her use of the term “illegal alien.” Putting aside the obvious hypocrisy in that position, De Leon ignores that federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have used the term “illegal alien.”What concerns me most is the apparent silence of the university. Under the student government’s Constitution, no officer or member will be discriminated against based on their political affiliation. I do not know the specific views of Martinez on politics or immigration. Indeed, I do not consider her specific viewpoints to be particularly relevant beyond the fact that such viewpoints are being used as the basis for adverse actions. She has a right to speak her mind on social media and a university should celebrate the diversity of such ideas as part of its intellectual mission. Yet, I could find no statement of the university denouncing any action that punishes a student or faculty member for their opposing viewpoints. I can understand not wanting to interfere with student governance decisions but the university should not be a mere pedestrian to the abuse of a student for her political views. The university would clearly condemn any action if was deemed racist or offensive. The denial of free speech would be of an equal concern for the university in guaranteeing a tolerant and open academic community.
Martinez’s next course of action is to appeal the impeachment. If she loses, she will face a removal trial. That is why the university must be clear as to its commitment to free speech. Student governments are not invitation to institute Robespierrean justice. The university needs to act to protect those who are being attacked for their dissenting views and to reaffirm the guarantee of free speech at Loyola Marymount University.