Student protest brings up questions on free expression

Mike “J.Terrible” DePiero is performing a silent act with tape over his mouth with “censored” written on it. DePiero was prevented from performing an original song that he wrote, so he performed his silent act in protest. (Photo by Michael Pacheco)

Michael Pacheco

Mike “J.Terrible” DePiero is performing a silent act with tape over his mouth with “censored” written on it. DePiero was prevented from performing an original song that he wrote, so he performed his silent act in protest. (Photo by Michael Pacheco)

Mike DePiero, also known as J.Terrible, staged a protest at the most recent American River College acoustic cafe. After being told he would not be able to perform one of his songs the way he wanted to, he instead placed tape over his mouth and proceeded to advocate his situation through a series of written signs.

“I had (two) cuss words/on the chorus/this caused controversy/in a free country!/This is college, right?” Each sign displayed a portion of DiPiero’s message before being dropped to the floor.

“I have been censored quite a few times here on campus, and I just kind of got tired of it,” DePiero said after the performance. “I just felt somebody needed to stand up and say ‘No.’”

At open mic opportunities outside the student center, such as Beaver Week or Club Day, DePiero’s performances are often cut short because of their content.

“I’ve watched people out here in front of the student center talk about offensive things, cuss, talk about sexual jokes,” DePiero said, “and it offended people in the area, and they didn’t get pulled off of the stage, but I mention the name of a drug (Methamphetamine), and I’m a problem?”

The acoustic cafe is meant to be an all ages production, and all performances are auditioned for and approved by faculty adviser Eric Chun.

According to Chun, all performing artists agree to follow the acoustic cafe artist agreements which include, “modification of (explicit) lyrics, showing up on time for the sound check, and adhering to the acoustic style.”

Chun said that DePiero’s song had a good message conceptually, but the lyrics included profanity to emphasize his passion.

Artists are supposed to modify their lyrics, but some seem to instinctively sing the unmodified versions of the songs.

Chun describes this as a gray area. Action like that taken against DePiero isn’t appropriate for all artists who use profanity.

Chun told DePiero he wouldn’t be allowed to sing that song after receiving complaints from listeners the last time DePiero performed.

According to The Guide to Student Rights and Responsibilities, “policies, regulations and the State Education Code prohibit expression which is obscene, libelous or slanderous according to current legal standards.”

The current legal standards under the First Amendment protect artistic expression.

Expression which is obscene is not protected under the law, but as outlined in the Supreme Court decision of Miller v. California, if obscene expression is artistic in nature it is protected.

School policy defaults to the law regarding a student’s right to free expression and the law protects artistic expression.

When asked to clarify the reasoning behind asking DePiero not to perform the song in question besides receiving audience feedback, Chun replied that he was advised by the Dean of fine and applied arts Adam Karp to not comment regarding this issue until Karp had resolved it.

In an interview, Karp stated that he recalled giving no such advice to Chun regarding commenting in interviews.

Karp works with the faculty who lead students in extracurricular activities like the acoustic cafe in coming up with terms and expectations like those listed in Chun’s artist agreement. The decision to allow some content and not allow other content rests solely on the faculty advisers.

The fine and applied arts department doesn’t want to stifle any students creativity, but according to Karp, in other department productions such as art shows or theater performances, when questionable content is present, the audience is given notice of that content.

“We’re not looking to censor anyone at all,” said Karp, noting that the acoustic cafe is voluntary for students and not tied to any class or club.

At the time of publication Chun was unreachable to comment on the acoustic cafe’s policy on not allowing artists to sing certain songs based on complaints about those songs or if that policy was laid out in the artist agreement consented to before the audition process.