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Is Free Speech Protected at UW-Madison? We Shouted “Fire!” in Lecture to Find Out

Welcome to the Madison Miss or More where we test various myths, life hacks, rumors, and more around campus. We then let you know if it’s a Miss (false) or a More (true).

Freedom of Speech has been a hot topic on campus recently and whether or not it’s protected. A lot of students have voiced concerns about their opinions being suppressed here on campus. We set out to test these claims. We first started small and then pushed the limits.

We first started small by posting on YikYak. Although small, we wanted to try something controversial right off the bat. We posted “Badgers suck!” Right away, we noticed backlash with downvotes and angry replies. Not off to a great start, but since it’s just students trying to censor us, we decided to test further.

Next, to take it up a notch, we headed over to the corner of University and Charter. We stood there during passing time and hurled insults at the students walking by. At first people only gave us strange looks. The only time the students talked to us was to tell us to move or get out of the way. Finally, a UWPD officer showed up to talk to us. We originally thought he was there to stop us, but he just asked if we were okay and why were yelling at people. I explained that as a straight, white man my freedom of speech is under attack and I’m simply trying to defend it. He told me to “keep fighting the good fight” and suggested I move away from this liberal hell hole. After our conversation, he suggested we move on and save our insults for “the commies in the capitol.”

Although we did have an encounter with the law, our speech was not censored. We decided to test more.

Finally, we really wanted to test the limits of free speech on campus. We set our sights on a Chem 104 lecture. With a class size of over 300, it was the perfect target for our test. I took my seat in the lecture hall and waited until about the halfway point. I then stood up and shouted “FIRE!” as loud as I could. Immediately people started to stare at me. The professor stopped her lecture and exchanged glances with some TAs. Then she did an awkward chuckle before starting the lecture again. I sat back down with some people still staring at me. After the lecture ended, I was heading out when my TA stopped me. My professor headed over to us and we talked about the incident. She wanted to know why I yelled “Fire” in her lecture and I explained that it was for freedom of speech. She then went on about how “that’s not freedom of speech,” “it’s very disruptive,” “It’s a safety risk,” “what if someone got hurt in a panic,” and a bunch more crap. I tried explaining that it was in the name of journalism and she was overreacting and being crazy, but she wouldn’t have it. What a snowflake! Later that day, I got an email from the Dean of Students office to “go over an incident that caused a disruption to learning and posed a significant safety risk,” as well as to go over consequences for my actions.

At the Dean of Students Office, they did the whole spiel again about “how wreckless my actions were” and I was “lucky no one panicked and got hurt”. Then they told me that it reflects badly on the Madison Misnomer and journalism field as a whole. I’m now on probation and have to apologize to the stupid Chem 104 class. When I tried to defend myself, they said I should be grateful I’m not expelled and watch my words. Talk about censorship!

Based on the reactions by the Dean of Students office, we rate freedom of speech being protected at UW-Madison as a Miss.


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