The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday May 25th

Patel, Koch speak civilly

From First Amendment Day. DTH/Mary-Alice Warren
Buy Photos From First Amendment Day. DTH/Mary-Alice Warren

Five months after a campus protest gained national attention, student leaders sat down again for a public discussion on free speech.

The discussion — held in honor of the campuswide First Amendment Day celebration — largely focused on senior Haley Koch’s participation in a protest of U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo. His April 14 visit was hosted by Youth for Western Civilization.

YWC President Nikhil Patel and media lawyer Hugh Stevens joined Koch on Thursday in Carroll Hall to discuss whether she was exercising her First Amendment rights or infringing upon Tancredo’s. Tancredo cut his speech short after police used pepper spray to disperse protesters and a window was broken.

Koch said she and the other protesters were simply voicing their opinions and did not force Tancredo to cut short his speech.

When questioned by a panelist as to whether she believed certain voices should be stifled, Koch said that in some cases, they should.

“I don’t feel their voices contribute to a civil debate or an intellectual climate,” Koch said. “I hope that students will self-organize to decide what is acceptable on a campus community.”

Patel disagreed. He said the protest made some conservative students feel they couldn’t openly express their views on campus.

Stevens, a UNC alumnus, said protesting is fundamental to expressing diverse opinions, but that Koch’s approach was a violation of Tancredo’s rights.

He added that he was disappointed with both the manner by which the Tancredo protest was carried out and the way Koch’s arrest nine days later was handled.

Koch was arrested outside a classroom without prior notification of the warrant for her arrest. The charge of disrupting the peace was dismissed last month.

“The University’s role should be to set a tone and a setting for civil discourse,” Stevens said. “Nobody benefits from this kind of situation on either end.”

Sam Wardle, a senior journalism major, said he organized the panel to discuss civil protest on campus following the April 14 incident.

“I knew they were all intelligent, reasonable and articulate people,” Wardle said. “We wanted to bring them together to show people they could hold a civil discussion.”

Stevens said he considered the discussion vital for the University.

“If we don’t have the ability to hear each other, then the value of the speech is lost because we’re not really listening,” he said.

 
Contact the University Editor at udesk@unc.edu.

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