U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Says College Students Not Developed Enough for Free Speech

by Molly Wharton

A U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner thinks that college students are not sufficiently developed to enjoy their free-speech rights.

Democrat Michael Yaki, who previously was senior adviser to Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), explained why he believes campus speech codes should be tightened during a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights briefing on sexual-harassment law in education.

“Certain factors in how the juvenile or adolescent or young adult brain processes information is vastly different from the way that we adults do,” he said, according to a transcript from law professor Eugene Volokh, who publishes the blog the Volokh Conspiracy at the Washington Post. “So when we sit back and talk about what is right or wrong in terms of First Amendment jurisprudence from a reasonable person’s standpoint, we are really not looking into the same referential viewpoint of these people, of an adolescent or young adult, including those in universities.”

Yaki explained that hostile or oppressive environments can be created from events hosted on campus, for instance a hypothetical “slave auction” at a fraternity event or activities where women “parade around in skimpy clothing and turn in some show or something.”

Volokh noted that previous court decisions have struck down restrictions on speech that is considered racist or sexist, but that Yaki appeared to be in favor of such restrictions.

“Because of the unique nature of a university campus setting, I think that there are very good and compelling reasons why broader policies and prohibitions on conduct in activities and in some instances speech are acceptable on a college campus level that might not be acceptable say in an adult work environment or in an adult situation,” Yaki said, noting that these students “don’t process in the same way that we do when we’re in our late 20s and 30s.”

Yaki told Campus Reform that for much of his life, he has considered himself a “First Amendment absolutist.”