The Debate Over Free Speech
University faculty strive to do what is best for students, and sometimes, it’s not what they want.
By Madeleine Ngo, University of Florida
Ben Shapiro, a popular conservative political commentator, was the latest guest speaker at the University of Florida, and most students were not happy about it.
There were numerous editorials and opinion columns centered around Shapiro and whether or not he should be recognized for his often-extreme conservative views. Many campus protests were filled with actual protesters, and then later, Shapiro supporters.
Some students argue that they shouldn’t have to pay for hateful speakers to visit their campus, while others support Shapiro’s beliefs. In the end, the main question is: Should college campuses be politically correct (PC)?
The answer isn’t completely clear. For the most part, having an entirely politically correct campus would be absurd. Students shouldn’t be shielded from perspectives that don’t align with their own beliefs. They can benefit from hearing other perspectives, because it promotes active discussion rather than outright shaming each other’s beliefs without justification.
There have been some weird moments resulting from promoting a PC campus; the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee deemed the term “politically correct” as being politically incorrect, claiming that the term is offensive and used as a tool of deflection.
In the end, there isn’t a perfect solution. Sometimes, there are appropriate times for political correctness, and sometimes there aren’t. Protests and campus debates are beneficial for students, especially at a time when students’ political and social beliefs are beginning to formulate.
By having a PC campus, though, the probability of increased debates and people vocalizing their opinions begins to diminish. University officials shouldn’t shield students from other people’s beliefs, no matter how bigoted or offensive they may be.
Rather than focusing on discounting other viewpoints, students should actively engage with people who don’t share the same beliefs. By doing so, students will be able to challenge the beliefs of others, like Shapiro, and learn from each other. Maybe you’ll leave more frustrated than before, but you can’t challenge and reinforce your beliefs without exposing yourself to other opinions first.
In an op-ed piece in the “Wall Street Journal,” Michael Bloomberg and Charles Koch argue against a politically correct campus, claiming that “safe spaces” would hinder free speech and result in students being unable to tolerate differing beliefs that they may encounter beyond their university years.
They urge college administrators to prevent measures promoting a politically correct campus, saying, “Stop stifling free speech and coddling intolerance for controversial ideas, which are crucial to a college education—as well as to human happiness and progress.”
No group is perfect. In the case of the protesters, college campuses should be less focused on being politically correct and, instead, promote open-mindedness and free speech. On the other hand, offending others isn’t ideal, and calling the protesters sensitive will most likely end up backfiring, creating more resentment than before.
Rather than condemning others and making base assumptions, question them. Ask them why they believe in something rather than calling them “liberal snowflakes” or preventing political commentators from speaking on campus. Institutions, like the University of Chicago (UC), seem to have an ideal grasp of how to handle a “politically incorrect” campus.
In UC’s welcoming letter to the incoming class of 2020, Dean of Students John Ellison writes, “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces,’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”
Although it’s a contentious topic, UC officials are firm in their beliefs and reinforcement of a non-PC campus in an effort to promote a wide range of student perspectives. Maybe you’re sick of hearing about political correctness, but it’s important to discuss the repercussions of restricting students from differing viewpoints.
Despite how extreme people’s beliefs may be, they should be allowed to have a platform to voice their opinions and be questioned. A productive society results from discussion. Once students are exposed to different views, they are able to more effectively formulate their own opinions after learning about the facts and considering a multitude of perspectives.
A completely politically correct campus would be an unproductive way for students to decide what they believe in. Differing beliefs shouldn’t be shamed, but rather challenged. Free speech is an essential component of a progressive society, one that isn’t caught up in what is or what isn’t deemed politically correct.