Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.

Guest Column: ASU cannot pick and choose who gets to have free speech

ASU undermines its own commitment to free speech when it selectively blocks political speakers from coming to campus without ample reasoning

231021 Palestine Rally-17.jpg

A member of the "No Both Sides" rally holds out a microphone to the crowd as they chant outside Old Main on the Tempe campus on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023.

Whether ASU intends to or not, the institution is instigating conflict on campus when it allows extreme political figures like former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to speak on inherently racist ideas while simultaneously not granting a platform to other political figures. 

College Republicans United at ASU (CRU) announced Arpaio’s return to campus to talk about his time as sheriff and his stance on immigration for the second time in five years.

Local Arizonans, like myself, are well aware of the policies and beliefs of the former sheriff, who served in the role for decades before 2016.

In 2016, I remember eagerly following election coverage on television, following the Maricopa County Sheriff race even closer than the presidential race. I could not bear another term under Arpaio’s influence. This view was not uncommon among both my liberal and conservative peers.

READ MORE:  'A slap in the face': Students protest Joe Arpaio's CRU-hosted visit to ASU

After evidence of Arpaio's racial profiling against Latinos during immigration sweeps and traffic stops was found in 2013, a district court ruled that the policies and practices of Arpaio's office were discriminatory, violating the Fourth and 14th Amendments and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

If that wasn't enough, "America’s Toughest Sheriff" openly believes that former President Barack Obama's birth certificate was forged despite there being no evidence to support his claim. 

This is the kind of person ASU welcomes to speak on campus.

This is neither the first time ASU has scheduled an appearance from Arpaio following his 2016 reelection loss to Paul Penzone nor the first time ASU allowed an appearance from a controversial political figure.

Turning Point USA at ASU, which has hosted conservative figures Charlie Kirk and Denis Prager on campus, was recently under fire following the assault of ASU instructor David Boyles. A video of the members of the organization showed them pushing Boyles to the ground after harassing him. 

ASU released a strong-worded statement after the assault took place, saying, "ASU will do all that we can to end the bullying and intimidation of our faculty members by Turning Point USA."

READ MORE: Students, faculty frustrated with Turning Point USA and ASU after altercation involving faculty member

President Michael Crow said the school is waiting for a police investigation to conclude before deciding the University's course of action.

When Crow was asked about the incident during a meeting with The State Press, he said when a group is invited to speak on campus, the answer will almost always be yes, no matter who it is. 

"Are we going to allow people that have been invited by people associated with the University to speak on campus?" Crow said. "The answer is freedom of speech is a very broadly conceptualized thing. And the answer will be almost always yes."

ASU needs to answer the question of where it draws the line when a figure is too dangerous for a platform. Crow vouches for free speech when 91-year-old Arpaio wants to share his views on immigration but will ax the appearance of an incumbent congressional member. 

This semester, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich, the only Palestinian member of Congress, was invited by the Arizona Palestine Network and Students for Justice in Palestine at ASU to speak on campus. 

Since ASU strongly supports free speech, you'd think she'd be given the same respect as Joe Arpaio, Charlie Kirk and several other controversial figures invited to speak on campus. Still, ASU canceled the event the night before it was scheduled to take place. 

"The event featuring Congresswoman Tlaib was planned and produced by groups not affiliated with ASU and was organized outside of ASU policies and procedures. Accordingly, that event will not take place today on the ASU Tempe campus," an ASU spokesperson said in an email.

Members of SJP at ASU said the event has been in the works for months. This last-minute cancellation led to anger, confusion and, most importantly, protest by the student body, leading to one arrest. If ASU truly cares about the safety of its students, it needs to do a better job of giving everyone an equal playing field or nothing at all. 

READ MORE: Rep. Rashida Tlaib calls into pro-Palestine protest after ASU cancels event

When ASU fails to provide sufficient reasoning for depriving one incumbent politician from speaking on campus while adequately providing a platform for a disgraced county sheriff, the message regarding free speech is unclear to the ASU community.   

Angelina Steel contributed to this reporting.

Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

Want to join the conversation? Send an email to Keep letters under 500 words, and be sure to include your university affiliation. Anonymity will not be granted.

Edited by Mia Osmonbekov, Walker Smith and Grace Copperthite.

Reach the reporter at and @azilbs21 on X.

 Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on X.

Continue supporting student journalism and donate to The State Press today.

Subscribe to Pressing Matters



This website uses cookies to make your experience better and easier. By using this website you consent to our use of cookies. For more information, please see our Cookie Policy.