Analysis | Panel discusses student rights, media bias

The Current Sauce and Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance hosted a panel last week on First Amendment rights and related issues in our society.

The event began by discussing problems the panelists deal with in their roles on campus and thoughts on policies at Northwestern State University. While members agreed NSU mostly acknowledges and respects students’ rights, Student Government Association President Tre Nelson brought up an issue regarding due process.

“Sometimes administrators can be kind of quick to say, ‘Okay, well I heard this rumor about you or your group of people, and here’s a punishment,’” he said.

By not conducting a full investigation before doling consequences, the administration could possibly violate a student’s free speech and assembly rights.

Adding onto that was Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Dr. Mark Melder who discussed students’ awareness of their rights. He said they do not typically know their rights because they have not learned about them in school.

“We get very confused about free speech and what that actually means; free speech means you have to listen to people even if you don’t like them,” he said.

There have been instances of protest and counter-protest from both sides of the political aisle which have deepened tensions across the nation. One key debate is whether people have the right to say what they want even when facts are not used to substantiate their claims.

The panel then went on to discuss freedom of the press and the trend of labeling “fake news.”

“A free press isn’t afraid to admit its mistakes, and that’s really its strength,” said Alec Horton, editor-in-chief of The Current Sauce, on news outlets’ occasional errors. “I think the press is stronger now than ever. I’m glad the president is attacking the media because it really makes us look at our fact-checking processes, where we’re getting our information and being even more strong in our [reporting].”

While discussing whether the media should be biased and what forms bias can take, Cherish Wilson, African-American Caucus vice president, offered her perspective.

“Everyone should have their time to tell the story they want to tell without being targeted just because a certain person doesn’t agree with what they’re saying,” she said.

Professor of English Dr. Sarah McFarland brought up the topic of social media and its role in the news cycle. A large portion of people get their news from social media websites and don’t fact check, which can lead to misguided dialogue. There are many websites made to trick people into believing conspiracy theories or lies about a candidate or organization that people often take as verified facts.

The social climate has impacted the First Amendment and the way people perceive others, which was discussed by Nelson and Wilson who talked about different demographics on campuses and peaceful protesting. Both of these issues are relevant since speech can affect certain groups in different ways, and peaceful protesting can quickly turn violent due to society’s view toward protesters.

The panel ended with an audience question about hate speech and whether private businesses should be able to regulate speech. There is often disagreement about where to draw the line and who gets to draw it.

Video from the panel is available on The Current Sauce’s Facebook page.