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Student Affairs and Academic Support

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Free Speech on Campus

The university is committed to fostering an environment where the open exchange of ideas and information is valued, promoted and encouraged. The First Amendment is fundamental to ensuring civil debate and free expression, which are vital aspects of campus life.

Part of the long tradition of American higher education is the belief that free and open dialogue is a key ingredient to arriving at universal truths and common understanding. Because of this tradition, colleges and universities are on the forefront of not only scientific discovery, but also important societal change. The university’s Board of Trustees recently reaffirmed the campus’ commitment to free speech by unanimously adopting a resolution embracing the core principles articulated in the University of Chicago’s “Report on the Freedom of Expression." [pdf] In addition, the university maintains a formal policy [pdf] related to free expression on campus.

The Carolinian Creed

In 1990, the Carolinian Creed was established as the university’s value statement. The Creed is an expression of our community's aspirations and reminds of the importance of civil discourse while embracing mutual respect for everyone, even those we disagree with.  It's not an enforceable code of conduct, nor is it intended to limit freedom of expression. 

As a Carolinian ...

  • I will practice personal and academic integrity;
  • I will respect the dignity of all persons;
  • I will respect the rights and property of others;
  • I will discourage bigotry, while striving to learn from differences in people, ideas and opinions;
  • I will demonstrate concern for others, their feelings, and their need for the conditions which support their work and development.


To learn more about the Creed and participate in events that celebrate it, visit the Creed site.


Using Your Voice

There are many ways to exercise free speech, and the university makes resources available to any student who wants to become more engaged in issues they care about. 

USC is home to more than 500 student organizations, including academic, social, political, religious and philanthropic organizations. To learn more about existing student organizations or to start your own group, visit the Leadership and Service Center site.

The university is home to a wide variety of student-led campus events, including guest speakers, informational events and organized demonstrations.

  • Groups and individuals not affiliated with the university must be sponsored by a university group or student group to reserve certain space on campus.
  • A fee may be charged for the use of university spaces depending on the event’s requirements.
  • Visit the Russell House event planning page to learn more. 
  • University staff also can help answer questions about protests, including if you are planning to organize one or have concerns about an on-campus event hosted by a student group.

Students at USC also are encouraged to participate in local, national and global communities.

  • The Leadership and Service Center provides nonpartisan support for students who want to learn how to become more involved in civic engagement, from voting and advocacy to community service.  


Respecting Other Voices

The Carolinian Creed urges civil discussion and debate; however, we do not have a “speech code” that prohibits constitutionally protected speech, even when the speech does not conform to our deeply held community values. Still, free speech doesn't mean any speech is acceptable; there are some limits.

Freedom of speech does not give individuals permission to silence the speech of others by shouting, heckling or otherwise disrupting a speech to the point that the speaker cannot continue or that the audience can no longer listen.

  • The free speech rights of a speaker would be infringed upon if members of an audience could silence anyone with whom they disagreed. 
  • Individuals who fail to comply with a campus official's request to cease disruptive activities may be subject to arrest or referral to the Office of Student Conduct.

Under the law, hateful speech can be punished when it directly incites imminent criminal activity or consists of specific threats of violence targeted against a person or group.

  • The Student Code of Conduct [pdf] also prohibits harassment of individuals. If someone is personally threatening or harassing you, it is important that you let someone know. 

Time, place and manner restrictions are content-neutral limitations on how and where speech may be exercised.

  • For example, disrupting classroom instruction or hosting a late-night demonstration next to a residence hall would not be permissible, no matter the reason.
  • Nevertheless, the university strives for the fewest restrictions possible, within reason.
  • Note: Since we are located within the City of Columbia, property adjacent to the university is subject to the time, place and manner regulations of the city, not the university. 


We’re Here to Help

A group of trained volunteers can assist students before, during and after free-speech events. The Safely Engaging in Expression Delegates (SEED) is a group of students and staff who attend events and help educate students about free speech on campus. Students who have concerns about an event or would like to request assistance during a planned event should contact SEED ( to speak with a team member.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.