Despite Hecklers, Brave College Students Offer Testimonies about Lack of Free Speech and Safety on Campus
This past Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled “Free Speech on College Campuses,” which examined the current state of the First Amendment on American college and university campuses. It also explored the rise in anti-Semitism, anti-Israel sentiment, and violence towards students supporting Israel.
Ironically, from the beginning of the hearing when the first witness, Connor Ogrydziak, was asked to testify, he was cut off by pro-Palestinian protestors shouting things like “Free Gaza” and “Stop silencing Palestinian students.” Some of the protestors were dressed in pink and wore masks or tape over their mouths that said, “GAZA.” They also held up blood-red painted hands behind the witnesses.
Everyone in the packed room was forced to wait about seven minutes before each of the protestors was removed by U.S. Capitol Police. More protestors interrupted the following witnesses as well. Ultimately, 10 people were arrested and charged with violations of the D.C. Code for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding” the hearing. One person was charged with assaulting a police officer.
Thankfully, the hecklers did not deter witnesses from sharing their powerful testimonies. In the spring of 2022, Ogrydziak, then-chairman of the University of Buffalo’s Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), invited Lt. Col. Allen West to speak on campus about racism in America. When the floor was opened to a question-and-answer session, student protestors shouted from their seats before the audio-visual employees from UB’s Student Association, the student government, cut power to the event’s microphones and speakers, ending the session. Then, once they eventually exited outside, YAF chapter members were chased by a 100-person mob across campus. In addition, the former chapter chair was forced into a bathroom where she called 911 for rescue, and another board member was physically attacked. Afterwards, the university officials were silent and no charges were pressed by the Erie County DA’s office.
Jasmyn Jordan is a Christian student at the University of Iowa and chairwoman of Iowa Young Americans for Freedom. Her YAF chapter hosted former Trump administration advisor Kellyanne Conway as a speaker on their campus. Jordan explained, “I was doxxed in a group chat of over 800 students and was falsely labeled as a Nazi, token white supremacist, and bigot. Some individuals even expressed that I made them uncomfortable and feared that I might commit a hate crime against them simply because I am black and hold conservative principles.”
When West gave a lecture, Jordyn testified, “A protestor stood in the back holding a sign that read, ‘Stop the alt-right. Punch your local Nazi today.’ This is blatant irony. Conservatives are slandered by students and faculty as harmful, yet here is an obvious example of someone openly delivering a violent threat and they face no repercussions.”
Jordan became especially emotional describing how she was treated when her YAF chapter recently hosted Matt Walsh: “We received death threats along with plenty of verbal harassment. The night before the speaking event, my hallmate stalked outside of my bedroom door by putting his ear on it multiple times to see if I was in my room because he was outraged by my involvement. That was a terrifying experience! When I talked to our hall coordinator about this, she replied ‘People are allowed to think, feel, and react as they want to about the upcoming event.’ At the event, someone threw 20,000 marbles on the floor to prevent people from entering the venue. Attendees were spat on. Outside, the university’s own marching band played loud music to try to drown out the speaker’s message.”
Amanda Silberstein, a Jewish student at Cornell University, also gave a very moving testimony about what she has experienced since the horrific killings and kidnappings on October 7 committed by Hamas terrorists in Israel. It is worth reading her entire testimony. Silberstein’s great-grandfather was shot dead by a Nazi guard in his small Polish town in October 1942, her grandfather was in a labor camp, and the rest of his family was deported to the horrific Belzec death camp. She had no idea that 81 years later, Jews would go through another nightmarish mass killing last month in Israel.
“I have seen and heard things on Cornell’s campus that just a month ago I could not have imagined. A professor publicly justified and celebrated barbaric acts of terror, including mutilation and rape of innocent women and children, as ‘exhilarating’ and ‘energizing,’ sparking students to freely call those acts ‘resistance’ instead of blatant terror. His praise of undeniable terrorism only fueled animosity on campus and incited violence against the Jewish community.”
Silberstein went on to describe how every day, she witnesses students tearing down and writing over posters depicting faces of innocent captives of Hamas, even infants, and replacing their prayers for the safe return of those hostages with anti-Israel rhetoric and charges of genocide.
Even after the Cornell student who made online death threats to the Jewish students was arrested, professors continue to teach anti-Semitic views in class, pressuring students to also express such views or risk receiving a low grade.
Silberstein’s grandmother, other family members, and close friends live in Israel, yet, they are more concerned about her living on an American university campus than they are about themselves. “Why are they calling and texting ME every day to check in and see how I am doing — ‘Do I feel safe on campus? Is there enough security? Do other students know I am Jewish?’ They live in an active war zone with rockets descending on them, and yet my safety on an American college campus is top of mind.”
Rep. Barry Moore (R-Ala.) asked Silberstein how her life has been affected by the threatening rhetoric of the anti-Israel activist groups on campus. She responded, “Every day when I walk outside, I question what I do, I question how I appear, I question what I say out of fear that someone might hear me who disagrees or who disagrees with my very existence and could threaten me with any actions. ... As the chairman mentioned, I’m on the Chabad board for my university, and I go to Shabbat dinner every Friday night, and I’m scared to walk outside. I’m scared to walk alone without police protecting us.”
All three students explained how their universities’ administrations do virtually nothing to protect conservatives’ free speech, while they put together “support, solidarity, and celebration spaces” for left-leaning students. Representatives Jefferson Van Drew (R-N.J.) and Nathaniel Moran (R-Texas) both pointed out the left-leaning bias of colleges’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) offices.
Even after these three students faced threats and violence on their campuses simply for having conservative viewpoints or being Jewish, they were even heckled by protectors while trying to give their testimonies. But they bravely stood firm and shared their stories so that future students are more likely to continue to have the freedom to speak and live according to their beliefs.