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Some Believe It’s Better to Curb Free Speech on Campus Rather Than Risk ‘Triggering’ Students & Professors

09-25-2019
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(Image: AP File Photo)
(Image: AP File Photo)

America is the land of liberty.   But to have a free people, you need to have free speech.   And that’s threatened in some places these days, and it seems mostly on college campuses.  New polling shows just how much these seats of higher education are stifling free speech.  The so-called thought police can be so strident that students are simply afraid to utter opinion because they fear it could lead to lower grades or even worse.

A recent poll found that 68 percent of students believe the social and political climate on their campus keeps them from speaking freely.

73% Afraid to Speak Their Opinions

“They fear that their classmates might find their opinions offensive, so they just don’t talk altogether,” said Nicole Neily, president of Speech First, a group that fights for free speech on campuses.   

She mentioned another poll showing conservative students tend to censor themselves.

“73 percent of strong Republicans say that they fear expressing opinions in class because they’re worried that their grade might suffer,” Neily stated.

She pointed out that’s because it’s often the professors who take offense.

‘Emotionally & Physically Triggered’

A recent article in The Blaze highlighted California State University Prof. Carlos Tejeda writing, “I nearly had to cancel class because of how shaken I am about seeing a ‘Build the Wall’ banner on our campus.”

He described himself as “emotionally and physically triggered.”

His emails about this to the faculty and staff on the Cal State U Los Angeles campus were obtained by Young America’s Foundation through a public records request.

Tejeda advocated curbing what he sees as dangerous free speech, writing, “…this poses a threat to the mental well-being of many of our students, staff, and faculty; that it violates their sense of safety…”

Hat or a Button Enough to Stir Up Trouble

Neily said of a recent incident, “I actually was just on a panel with a professor from the University of Maryland this weekend.  He said that he felt that students in class wearing something like a Make America Great hat would make him feel offended.”

The Speech First president pointed out that professors’ reactions can lead to unfair treatment and gave CBN News an example of a Michigan student she knows.

“His professor saw him wearing a Trump button, and then refused to write him a letter of recommendation for med school,” she explained.

Even Valentines Can Trigger Someone

In another case, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College student Polly Olsen was busted for passing out Valentines.   Apparently someone on campus was threatened or offended by that and turned her in.

“Every year she hands out hand-made Valentines that say ‘Jesus loves you’ for Valentine’s Day.  She’s religious,” Neily said of Olsen.  “And somebody filed a complaint against her for doing so, and the school tried to shut her down.  They said, ‘You’re not allowed to do this.’”

Olsen sued and won in court, the judge writing, “Olsen was engaged in a constitutionally protected form of expression.”

They Believe Speech Can Actually Harm Them

Neily pointed out it’s often students themselves willing to curb the First Amendment because they think some speech can actually hurt them.

“They want to be free from emotional harm,” she explained.  “Which is troubling in a way because you think ‘this may be four years of your life, but you go out into the real world, you’re not going to be protected from emotional harm.’”

Neily added, “You learn how to cope in the real world.   For schools to bend over backwards to try to prevent a student from having their feelings hurt, from being faced with a tough situation, from being exposed to opinions that they dislike, is doing those students a disservice.”

What of the Robust Exchange of Ideas?

The Speech First president finds it ironic that universities should be stifling free speech when they of all places should treasure the robust exchange of ideas and unfettered free speech.

She stated, “Universities were designed to be the place to pursue truth, however that comes to be – the clash of ideas, debating back and forth, Socratic dialogues, late-night arguments.”  

Neily concluded, “For universities to at this point,  frankly, only have a very narrow window of dialogue that’s welcome on campuses, and to try and through underhanded means silence and shut down viewpoints outside of that – it’s fundamentally antithetical to their mission.”

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