Free speech at Wayne State University

Universities at their best are places of dialogue, where ideas and knowledge are tested through the process of reason and critical thinking. As a result, ideas may clash as they are passionately debated and the rights to speech, assembly and expression are put into practice on campuses.

Wayne State University is proud to be a campus where the free and civil exchange of ideas flourishes, and where people can express their unique views, in spite of whether they align with our own. As we uphold the law and encourage rational discourse, we are guided by our values, among which is diversity and inclusion, which states that we “value all people and understand that their unique experiences, talents and perspectives make us a stronger organization and better people.” Central to this is free speech, which plays a key role in the university’s commitment to cultivating and fostering an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for diverse points of view.

What is free speech?

Fundamental to democracy is the right to express opinions freely and openly, without government censorship. Freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that “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.”

What is hate speech?

Hate speech is expression that targets an individual or group of people based on characteristics such as race, religion, gender or nationality. It is offensive and threatens social peace. Since it is not criminalized under U.S. or state laws, hate speech is also protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution; thus, attempting to censor what someone considers hate speech is not legally enforceable.

Can Wayne State prevent groups from coming to campus?

As a public institution, Wayne State welcomes people to express their ideas — however disagreeable they may be — as long they act lawfully, follow university policy, and refrain from interfering with university operations or our academic mission. We cannot prohibit people from coming to campus and expressing their views, though we can ensure they follow policy while holding an event. WSU is committed to protecting physical safety during all events and fulfilling our obligation to create a space for civil and safe disagreement among diverse community members — one of the hallmarks of higher education.

How is Wayne State ensuring campus safety when individuals or groups express controversial ideas?

The safety of our campus community and visitors to campus is paramount. To ensure we maintain a safe environment for free expression, we maintain an awareness of all events on campus, including those attended by campus visitors. If an event has the possibility of inciting conflict, we may lawfully impose time, place, and manner restrictions to avoid confrontations, maintain public safety and avoid disrupting campus operations. The Wayne State University Police Department will also maintain a peaceful presence and only intercede if necessary to protect the safety of people and property on campus.

What are the consequences of expressing views that are perceived as hateful or hurtful to others?

Expressing views or opinions, even those perceived as disagreeable or hurtful, is protected by the U.S. Constitution. Wayne State University and our U.S. justice system will protect the right to such expression. The law, however, does not protect speakers from the reactions of non-governmental actors offended by controversial speech. We encourage everyone to consider — before they express themselves — the consequences of speech that could be interpreted by other individuals, communities, groups and organizations as callous, ignorant or hateful. Even speech that is legally protected can be hurtful to others and inconsistent with our values of diversity, equity and inclusion. In an era where speech and expression can easily become part of one’s permanent record, the long-term consequences of engaging in hateful speech can include loss of employment or job opportunities, and the damage or severance of important personal and professional relationships.

For additional questions or assistance, reference the following resources: Student Code of Conduct; Student Complaints; Office of Equal Opportunity; or contact Wayne State’s Dean of Students Office at or 313-577-1010.