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Elvia Díaz: ASU missed an opportunity when it canceled Rep. Rashida Tlaib's event

To say the debate over the war between Israel and Hamas is heated on college campuses would be an understatement — and free speech is at the center of it. 

In the last few weeks, an Arizona State University student government meeting was called off early because pro-Palestinian students were accused of throwing rocks at the second-floor windows of a the building where the meeting was being held, and the university cancelled an event with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman to hold a seat in Congress. 

They said the event had been organized by groups that weren’t affiliated with ASU and it was organized “outside of ASU policies and procedures.”

Now, the debate over what speech should — and shouldn’t — be allowed on college campuses is playing out on the editorial pages of the Arizona Republic.

The Show spoke with the editorial page editor Elvia Díaz to discuss more.

Interview highlights

A press release was issued last week by two Republican lawmakers in Arizona and two Democratic lawmakers which said they didn't want to hear from Congresswoman Rashida Talib here in Arizona. Tell us more about that.

ELVIA DIAZ: Well, that's been one of the most difficult issues that we have dealt with. By we, meaning that the public ever since in Gaza war begun, you know, where you have a segment of the population that it just so determined to talk about one issue and not the other. So we're talking about, you know, conservatives who not too long ago were complaining that their voices had been shut down out of universities and elsewhere. And now they're doing exactly the same thing with the Palestinian voices. In this case, you are correct, that some Democrats were doing the same thing, then that's very problematic.

You had columnist Phil Boaz writing a piece basically saying: I'm a conservative, and I don't like what Rep. Talib has to say, but also she should have the right to say it and we should protect that right.

DIAZ: Well, I like ... Phil's position, you know, because I, you know, I agree with with his position in the sense that you protect freedom of speech precisely when you don't like it. I mean, it's easy to defend what you like, but it's when you are not in that position that it matters, you know. In this case, Phil has been very critical of the Palestinians, very critical of, you know, anti-semitism — as we all should. But he also understands that, he's been consistent here that, you know, he defends free speech just like I do. But then if you do that, you have to defend it in all cases.

Now, obviously, that brings consequences when you do that. I mean, I have said it before, and I have written it before, like you have to right to speak, but you, you don't have the right to a certain outcome. And so it's the same thing here. The university is precisely a place where they should have robust discussions about essentially ... anything that is happening in the world and locally. And that's what Phil has been arguing.

We have seen student protests at colleges get really out of hand. We've seen this in past generations as well, but it does seem as if this is a flash point that is hitting differently in terms of how universities grapple with the issue of free speech and protecting it, but also keeping people safe.

DIAZ: Yeah. And that's the difficult part for universities. You're correct. It has happened before like Vietnam War, for instance, in the students protest, you know, back then. So same thing. The university of course, you know, would have an argument that they are responsible for what happens on campus, and that it is true that some of the students had been, some of the protesters had been, I wouldn't say loud, as in violent, in some sense. And so, yes, it is, the university's responsibility to protect that.

But in this case, the university didn't even give them a chance. I mean, you can have police officers, you can have patrol the event to guarantee peace, but they didn't even do that. They essentially just canceled it, they didn't want to deal with it. So again, when are we gonna be able to talk about certain issues and disagree? I do think it's a missed opportunity from the university, because if you're not gonna be able to teach the students about what's happening. If it is not on campus, then where, then where is this gonna happen? Where is this education gonna happen? A lot of the complaints that I hear is that this young generation doesn't even know what they're talking about. And my point is, well, teach them.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.