The Left is starting to realize how important free speech is at college and why it needs to be defended at all costs. Catherine Russell is the latest to write on the college war on free speech at The Washington Post and how “safe spaces” may hurt more than help. She points out how Wesleyan University’s student government decided to lash out at the student newspaper for publishing a piece from a conservative.
Within 24 hours of publication, students were stealing and reportedly destroying newspapers around campus. In a school cafe, a student screamed at [op-ed writer Bryan] Stascavage through tears, declaring that he had “stripped all agency away from her, made her feel like not a human anymore,” Stascavage told me in a phone interview. Over the following days, he said, others muttered “racist” under their breath as he passed by.
The Argus’s editors published a groveling apology on the paper’s front page. They said they’d “failed the community” by publishing Stascavage’s op-ed without a counterpoint, and said that it “twist[ed] facts.” They promised to make the paper “a safe space for the student of color community.” This self-flagellation proved insufficient; students circulated a petition to defund the newspaper…
Finally, on Sunday, the student government voted unanimously to halve funding for the newspaper and redistribute the savings among four campus publications (including, possibly, the Argus, subject to a student vote). This measure is allegedly intended to reduce paper waste and promote editorial diversity.
It’d be nice if this was the exception to the norm, but it’s not. Guy Benson wrote here how Suzanne Venker was uninvited from Williams College because she’s a feminist critic. Cardiff University in Britain had to fight off a petition keeping Australian feminist Germaine Greer (who is a Marxist) from campus because of her beliefs regarding transgender women. As she told The Guardian:
“What they are saying is that because I don’t think surgery will turn a man into a woman I should not be allowed to speak anywhere.”
This is a trend where leftist teachers on campus are starting to realize their mistake in helping enable the entire thing. Edward Schlosser wrote a bit called “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me” at Vox because he realized how no one can be challenged anymore (emphasis mine).
I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to “offensive” texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain. His response, that the texts were meant to be a little upsetting, only fueled the students’ ire and sealed his fate. That was enough to get me to comb through my syllabi and cut out anything I could see upsetting a coddled undergrad, texts ranging from Upton Sinclair to Maureen Tkacik — and I wasn’t the only one who made adjustments, either.
Schlosser’s decision to pull the texts makes sense because he’s worried about his job. It’s unfortunate he couldn’t have kept them in, but fear is a powerful weapon. It causes people to act irrationally and lash out at others. The fear of offending students has caused numerous colleges to enact policies which restrict free speech and encourage censorship. Colleges aren’t challenging any more, but putting earmuffs around students as a way to protect them from offensive dialogue.
It’s time to stop this. It’s time for the Right and those on the Left (who realize they’ve screwed up) to team up to push back against censorship. But the only way censorship is going to be stamped out is if both sides realize college campuses should let the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day” exist. Universities should get rid of “free speech zones” because all public areas of universities are free speech zones. It means professors should actually challenge students and university administrators shouldn’t fire professors because they happen to present texts which might offend someone. The current “safe space” mentality started because the idea of being politically incorrect no longer exists, except in name only. Look at the current fight over the Confederate battle flag. There are plenty on the Left who want it whitewashed out of existence which will hurt more than help because there’s a chance Americans will forget about the Civil War and how it seriously hurt the country. But they need to remember free speech is free speech. People have the right to be offended, but it doesn’t mean they have to right to take the pitchforks and torches to university administrators to get things shut down. Ridicule and protest? Sure, have at it. But deciding to cancel controversial speakers because of their views doesn’t work.
It used to be universities were lauded for inviting people who were “against the norm” into their auditoriums to speak. Now that’s no longer the case and it’s time to push back against the “I don’t want to be offended” crowd. This means the Right needs to be willing to work with people they might not normally want to. It’s too easy to sit back, laugh, and crow, “Stupid leftists, you’re getting what you deserve!” The hard part is getting in the trenches with those who are fighting for free speech and say, “I don’t agree with you, but you have every right to say what you believe.” That’s the only way to end the “safe space” notion on college campuses. Until that happens, censorship will keep reigning supreme at universities and no one will learn anything.