Summer Series #5: Liberals - The Big Majority on Campus

By Ananya Kalahasti

When Milo Yiannopoulos spoke – sorry, was set to speak – at Berkeley, the nation saw the worst of the left. Sure, Yiannopoulos had a track record, of outing transgenders and undocumented students. But the violence and turmoil that plagued the Berkeley campus surrounding his visit only pushed tensions across the brink. From fires lit and windows broken, liberals across the Bay Area took to marching and rioting across the campus to shut down Yiannopoulos, not stopping until his talk at Berkeley was officially cancelled. 

Unfortunately, this has not become an isolated occurrence. Across the nation, speakers and professors have been shut down from sharing their opinions and ideas. Many have pleaded that colleges are to be safe spaces, while others claim that by shutting down one side of ideas, liberals are only painted as being more intolerant, and not accepting freedom of speech and expression.

These claims are not unfounded. Greg Lukianoff, head of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, noted just this past May that while many colleges have set goals to be a place where students are exposed to opposing viewpoints and ideas, they've actually become the place speakers are shut down most. However, these actions are skewed towards the shutdown of far-right speakers, those like Charles Murray and Ann Coulter. Granted, while many of these shutdowns have occurred on strongly liberal campuses, whether it's California or Vermont, the level to which these protests have gone has often turned violent. In just 2016, 42 speakers were disinvited, and these numbers are only projected to increase in 2017. 

At the core of this issue are two controversial ideas: hate speech and safe spaces. Many argue that safe spaces should protect from hate speech, and that college campuses themselves must be those safe spaces for the students and faculty on those campuses. However, two issues usually result from that. First, that conservatives on campuses feel attacked, because it tends to be their ideas shut down and called hateful. the definition of hate speech is often difficult, because what’s considered hateful to some, is not considered hateful to others. However, because many campuses shut down what’s considered hate speech, students who may identify with less extreme versions of these views feel as if their right to free speech has been shut down, which is a dangerous thing. 

Ultimately, free speech is meant to preserve conflicting ideas, not to create an echo chamber bubble where only one side of ideas is shown. While conflict can be harmful, echo chambers are even more dangerous, because they tend to push radicalization. It’s essential for campuses to maintain controversial views, to preserve conflicting ideas on campus because as these ideas enter the mainstream, as they are accepted, and spread, they tend to become less radicalized, less likely to enter their own echo chamber. This battle of ideas is what spreads thinking, what helps students grow and understand the nuances of different issues. 

Free speech as an issue should never be partisan. It shouldn’t be that alt-right speakers are considered hate speech, whereas violent protests aren’t taken action against. It should be the marketplace of ideas, where all ideas are heard and taken in equally, that meaningful debate and action is centered. So, while it’s okay for colleges to have guidelines for what isn’t allowed in speeches, to be safe spaces, to condemn free speech, and to push away extremism and radical views, in shutting down speakers and modifying curriculums to account for controversy, colleges only move education processes backwards. Controversy is ultimately necessary to push our thinking process forward. 

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