Lauren Wong | The Poly Post

When silence inhibits your right to free speech

By Victoria Mejicanos, Nov. 7, 2023

I have had many experiences at Cal Poly Pomona: as a student, an employee and a student journalist.  

A common trend I notice in all aspects of my student experience is silence.  

Free speech should not be limited because of how close or far away someone is from the Office of the President, or any supervisor for that matter. Regardless of your position in an institution, you have every right to criticize it, openly and freely.  

Through my work with The Poly Post, I feel I have learned far more than I think any person should about an institution, especially one they pay to attend. 

In previous on-campus jobs, I’ve seen first-hand how my supervisors calculated their every move. I’ve seen how uncomfortable they felt to express themselves out of fear they would be deemed unprofessional, constantly worrying about who could be watching them.  

I was afraid to do or say anything “wrong.” It got to the point where I was asked to consider the image of my workplace, and how I contributed to that image through what I did outside of it, like my work for The Poly Post or what I posted on social media.  

At the time, I was distraught because I was learning in my Communication Law and Ethics course about the First Amendment, and that no one should be able to tell me or my former supervisor what we can do or say outside of work. Being required to take this course empowers me to talk about the not-so-great things I hear. I’ve learned what rights I have as a journalist at a public institution and the rights of the people I interview.   

The freedoms I feel people forget about or take for granted the most are speech, assembly, press and the right to petition the government.    

There are exceptions, especially when it comes to the private workplace. However, there are protections for employees on both state and federal levels.   

Most people who work at Cal Poly Pomona are public employees because the university is public and funded by the state.     

The exchange of ideas and perspectives are what allows for truth to emerge. Only when the truth emerges, and people are brave enough to push past their fear of authority, can meaningful  change occur.  

My silence had consequences. By being silent, I was complacent in my own mistreatment and even the mismanagement of an entire department.  

It wasn’t until I quit that I felt safe to express my thoughts.  I was told in the middle of quitting “we don’t do what we do for glory” when I explained I felt the entire department was overworked and wanted it acknowledged.  

Lauren Wong | The Poly Post

No one does a job that serves a community so directly for any sort of gain; at least not the faculty, staff and students I’ve interviewed who serve the campus.  

I know how it feels to practically beg for resources to better serve students. I know first-hand what it’s like to not have proper sick pay, to be ignored, overworked and underpaid, and deal with understaffing and constant changing of authority, having to readjust to another person’s standards every few months.  

It’s wrong, and it’s not something I shouldn’t have felt I “had to” accept. I deserved better than that, and so do people on this campus.  

I’m also not an aspiring journalist for the money either. In fact, I often get told pursuing my degree is a waste of time and that the industry is dying.  

I do it because everyone has a story, including the people on this campus.                                                                                                                                      

This campus has many problems, but one I refuse to enable is the silencing of its community.   

According to The Knight Foundation, university students across the nation feel their campus climate stifles their free expression.   

CPP to my knowledge does not have spaces like this, and it shouldn’t. Freedom of assembly is so important. If a group doesn’t like how they’re being treated, they can express it vocally.  

Silence empowers those above you to stay there. If you are brave and speak out, eventually it encourages others to do the same. It’s what allows me to be a journalist. And it allows all of us to be free.

Sometimes all it takes is one person, with one story, to encourage people to follow suit and expose injustice or ignite meaningful change.

Feature image courtesy of Lauren Wong

Verified by MonsterInsights