It’s a true privilege to attend college at the University of Colorado. As students, we are challenged daily to think critically, to grapple with different ideas and to learn to formulate our own. And what is so wonderful about this environment is that while we all have different thoughts, we are given a space to speak them freely. We may not always agree with each other, but we can be thankful that we are allowed to hear a myriad of viewpoints to help us gain an appreciation for multiple perspectives, as well as a better understanding of our own. Freedom of speech is essential to this atmosphere, which is why we should be critical of the administration’s attempt to lock down the campus once more to prevent this free speech event.
The 4/20 event is a chance to raise serious issues, making it worth a space on our campus. The way in which we relate to drugs, the question of their legal status, and the high incarceration rate due to current drug policies are all major issues that deserve serious contemplation.
The gathering raises awareness of these issues through a large assembly of people who advocate for marijuana. Part of the assembly has included small acts of civil disobedience in past years, with the most notable being the people who have smoked marijuana even though it was illegal. Marijuana has been legalized in Colorado since last year’s event, but it is still illegal to smoke it public. The free speech practiced in this assembly certainly comes in a different form than, say, a classroom discussion, but it is, nonetheless, an expression that should be protected at all costs to ensure the vibrant exchange of ideas on our campus.
I realize that there are many students and faculty who think that 4/20 is nothing more than a group of stoners invading CU’s campus and tarnishing the school’s image, but such concerns should be put in perspective. Students and faculty have every right to be upset that their school is written off as a “party school” in part because of such gatherings. It certainly doesn’t feel good to think that your school is known for people lighting up on the quad. Nor is it pleasant to think that when the media write off CU, the public misses so many of the good qualities the school has to offer.
I would urge, however, that we not let concerns over image lead us to encourage actions that actually undermine the quality of our education. The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech in its first amendment, and the University of Colorado is a public institution funded by federal and local tax money. Our university is an essential institution to a functioning democracy, and it is imperative that freedom of expression be allowed so it can serve us best as citizens.
The claims being made about the 4/20 event by the CU administration seemed reasonable at first, but the truth is they don’t justify the police state-style ID checks and massive law enforcement presence. The administration claims that such an event could interfere with safety on campus. It isn’t unfair for the administration to want to maintain a healthy campus atmosphere that promotes a sober, learning-centered environment. Yet as student government executive Tyler Quick pointed out, CU allows the open consumption of alcohol on campus at tailgating parties before football games, and alcohol is a dangerous drug, as well. If they can trust students to make responsible choices about alcohol, surely they can trust us to be adults about our marijuana choices. A letter from CU’s Chancellor DiStefano also claimed requiring ID’s and creating a large police presence will “ensure that the business of the campus continues without being materially disrupted.”
Isn’t being challenged with opinions and ideas that are different from our own the essence of “the business of campus?” The real disruption isn’t in having active citizens come to the quad; it’s in having the campus in an almost militarized lockdown.
I urge all CU students, workers and faculty to support the right of fellow citizens to make a statement on our campus, even if you do not agree with the message or the means. Whatever your opinion on the protest, remember that you have as much right to your freedom of speech as those who will join us on campus on April 20. You have every right to bring signs denouncing everyone who smokes weed, just as you have the option of simply walking to class—or, more likely, the library, since the event will be on a Saturday—and ignoring the event. But please don’t be so misguided as to believe that because you disagree with this action, it is okay for the administration to shut it down entirely. The planned actions of the administration constitute a blatant overreaction to a protest, at best, and a stifling of free speech at worst. Let’s make a better statement: CU as a whole cares more about protecting freedom of expression and fostering an inclusive atmosphere than it does about ticketing people for minor drug offenses.
Contact CU Guest Writer Nate Banfield at Nathan.firstname.lastname@example.org.