Freedom of Expression & Protests

UC Santa Barbara is committed to respect for others, diversity, and the exploration of ideas to foster an inclusive and challenging learning environment. The mission of the University to seek, discover, and disseminate truth cannot be realized without open, unimpeded exchange of ideas in and outside the classroom.

This page provides a resource to students to understand the privileges the First Amendment affords, applicable restrictions, as well as resources and answers to commonly asked questions about Free Speech and Lawful Assembly.

 

What is Free Speech?

As a public research institution, the University is bound by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America:

“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.”

Protected speech usually includes the oral or written exchange of ideas, particularly those that contain political, scientific, literary or artistic value. The commitment to free speech is at the core of UC Santa Barbara’s commitment to teaching, research, and public service.

 

When is Speech Restricted?

Because the First Amendment is intended to allow for the expression of varied perspectives, the presentation of ideas and beliefs that conflict with your own is likely to occur. This can be, at times, uncomfortable as well as emotionally and intellectually challenging. It is, however, an equal right afforded to all persons and perspectives, which the University is legally bound to protect.

This does not mean that there are no restrictions upon speech. The following are forms of speech which are not protected:

  • Defamation: Intentionally false statements about a specific person that has the effect of damaging their reputation with material repercussions.
  • Incitement of Violence: Statements that are intended, or likely to provoke, a physically violent response and are directed toward a specific individual.
  • Harassment: Speech that targets a specific individual based upon their membership in a protected identity category such as gender, race, or religion, and interferes with their access to educational opportunities.
  • Time, Place, and Manner: The government permits the restrictions of speech to appropriate times, locations, and methods of delivery, provided these policies are uniformly applied. For example, assemblies may not disrupt quiet periods, or violate fire codes. Activities that are determined to pose a risk to personal safety, university property, or facility security will be rescheduled until such time that adequate and appropriate security can be made available.

 

Understanding Hate Speech

Because the First Amendment affords rights to free expression, individuals may make statements about others identities’ that may can feel hurtful or aggressive. This may cause us to question whether this is “hate speech.” Generally speaking, the First Amendment has no exception for inflammatory language that may be perceived as “hateful,” unless it violates one of the aforementioned restrictions (e.g. the incitement of violence or harassment against an individual). Thus, without minimizing the potential negative impacts of “hate speech,” the University recognizes that hate speech is generally protected by the First Amendment.

 

Using Free Speech Effectively

UCSB has a long history of respecting and valuing student activism. The campus has also been a vigorous protector of the First Amendment and students’ rights to assemble peaceably and to express their beliefs, experiences, and opinions through speech and media. We take pride in our students’ engagement with social and political issues, viewing it as a desirable, if not essential, component of the college experience.

However, simply because speech must be legally permitted does not mean that it is always consistent with the University’s values. One of UC Santa Barbara’s ethical values is respect for others, and we expect that those associated with our campus will engage in civil and respectful dialogue on campus. Therefore, in addition to the required guidelines for free expression, we suggest that students consider how their speech, event, or expressions may be received by their colleagues at UC Santa Barbara.  We encourage individuals to consider our Principles of Community when deciding how and whether to engage in free expression on campus.

We must also consider the reputational impacts of our speech. Our words, especially those published online in any format, can have lasting impacts. Some speech that is permissible under campus policy and the law might also bear significant social and societal consequences that are beyond the University's control.

 

Guidelines for Free Expression and Assembly

The university will permit all legally protected free speech. To ensure that your speech, expression, assembly, or event does not inadvertently violate a University, State, or Federal guideline, we offer the following suggestions:

  • The Dean of Students Office is available as a resource to help you develop a plan and to understand your rights and responsibilities with regard to free expression. For for more information or to schedule an appointment, email studentlife@sa.ucsb.edu or call 805-893-4569.
  • Report safety concerns to University of California Police Department (UCPD): (805) 893-3446. In an emergency, dial 911.

Inform participants of University policies by sharing this information and discussing strategies for confrontation during the course of the event. For the safety of you and others, do not respond physically to offensive speech or behavior.

 

Suggestions and Resources for Community and Self-Care

At times, events may pass all legal requirements for free expression while not necessarily aligning with the University’s value of respect for others. How you respond to expression that you disagree with is a personal choice, not one to be made by peers, groups, or the university. The information on this website is provided to help you make an informed choice about how you exercise your right to free speech.

We offer the following suggestions for engagement, self-care, and care for your community:

  • Plan an alternative event: One of the most effective responses to such events is to develop alternative programming that highlights our community’s commitment to inclusion. This can include educational forums, arts, lectures, dance, or other social events that celebrate identity. Potential collaborators for events are student organizations, administrative departments such as Student Affairs, local organizations, and academic departments. 
  • Engagement: If you feel it is safe and healthy to do so, attend the event, ask questions, and express your perspective. Leave the event at any time you feel it is no longer productive or in your best interest to attend. 
  • Intentional Avoidance: Choosing not to engage with an event is your right and a personal choice. There are many indirect and proactive forms of engagement, including non-attendance.
  • Develop inter-group collaborations: If an event runs counter to the values or identities of multiple organizations, work together to develop a response that supports group members and the community.
  • Know your options for lawful protest: For decades UCSB has valued and respected student activism. Note that all forms of protest must meet Time, Place, and Manner requirements in order to be legally permitted. For more information see the Campus RegulationsIf you have questions about how to protest within University guidelines, Contact the Office of Student Life at studentlife@sa.ucsb.edu. For additional legal questions and suggestions on forms of protest, consult this guide from the American Civil Liberties Union: https://www.aclunc.org/sites/default/files/know_your_rights_free_speech.pdf
  • Contact CAPS: Counseling and Psychological Services provides timely, culturally appropriate, and effective mental health services. Contact them if you need assistance, and make this resource known to others in your community: http://caps.sa.ucsb.edu/
  • Submit a Bias Incident Report: If you believe an event or incident violates the University’s Principles of Community, you may report it to the campus. Click Here to file a report, or visit http://studentlife.sa.ucsb.edu/bias.
  • Many additional resources to support students, staff, and faculty exist. Click Here for a full list of Student Affairs resources, or visit http://www.sa.ucsb.edu/departments-and-services.

 

Who Might You See at a Protest?

When a protest occurs on campus, a number of different groups and people may attend. University staff as well as university and local police may attend in order to ensure the safety and rights of all students.

Counter-protesters may attend to express their perspective opposed to the message of the initial protest. UCSB encourages respectful dialogue between groups expressing divergent opinions or beliefs.

Additionally, protests and demonstrations sometimes draw attention from community members, individuals, and groups not-affiliated with the university.