“I personally am tired of hearing that First Amendment rights protect students when they are creating a hostile and unsafe learning environment for myself and for other students here.” Those are the words of University of Missouri Student Asscoiation Vice President Brenda Smith-Lezama. The greatest invention of free people — the freedom of speech — is seemingly creating a hostile learning environment for students. If student activists are trying to win over hearts and minds with that line of argument, they might want to rethink their approach.
Alleged cases of racism at the University of Missouri are deplorable — but so is the crackdown on free expression. In fact, recent instructions from the school’s campus police urging students to report “hateful and/or hurtful” comments have led the American Civil Liberties Union, not exactly a bastion of conservative advocacy, to characterize the move as running “counter to the First Amendment.”
Likewise, the liberal editorial board of The Washington Post recently penned a strikingly forceful rebuke of student activists and faculty members who “undermine the cause of acceptance and tolerance” and “run the risk of making universities a place not of learning but of conforming,” particularly by stifling the rights of a student photographer covering the protests. Moreover, student activists have now forced the University of Missouri president and others to resign from their posts. One professor says he wished to resign after students lambasted the educator for not cancelling an exam amid the schoolwide protests. I once held the belief that universities were centers of learning, but apparently social activism now takes precedence over midterms. What is happening here is simple — the oppressed are becoming the bullies themselves, and the phenomenon is spreading across college campuses nationwide.
Take the case of The Wesleyan Argus, the Wesleyan University student newspaper. After publishing an opinion piece critiquing the Black Lives Matter movement, scores of students and faculty protested the paper and called for a boycott, decrying its apparent racial motives and demanding “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings,” the trends du jour of today’s hyperpolitically correct world. The weak-willed editors succumbed to the pressure, issuing an apology and a promise to run an edition written only by “students of color.” In yet another blow to free speech on the campus, the university’s student government body slashed the paper’s funding in half. The Argus and student leaders may want to take a lesson from newspaper pioneer Benjamin Franklin, who once wrote that “if all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.” And even on the Hilltop, students censored a political cartoonist for the Georgetown Voice, alleging that his cartoon about the Georgetown University Student Association presidential candidates was racist. Apparently campus newspapers these days have forgotten about the concept of diversity of thought and expression.
At Yale University, student activists allegedly interrupted and spat on free speech advocates who gathered for a free speech event hosted by the William F. Buckley Jr. Program. The irony here is overwhelming. This came after the school’s Intercultural Affairs Committee warned students of wearing offensive Halloween costumes. Not only are colleges policing what people can and cannot say to prevent hurt feelings, but now certain articles of clothing are also dangerous. The issue culminated when students aggressively confronted the husband of a faculty member who spoke out against the Halloween costume warning. In the now viral video, a student asked professor Nicholas Christakis if he believes in free speech, whereupon he responded that he does. The student replied: “Even when it denigrates me?” Apparently “free” speech means nothing anymore. The students went on to curse at Christakis, yelling at him to “be quiet” and claiming he “doesn’t deserve to be listened to” and is “disgusting.” So much for a safe space. This ungrateful lack of respect for authority figures and threatening of school administrators is just another symbol of the failure of academia to mold students into productive citizens.
Promoting a culture of victimhood and groupthink is what today’s universities are best at. But a warning to student activists: Coddling yourselves from the unfortunate parts of human existence can only work on college campuses — not in the real world, for which, I assumed, colleges were intended to prepare students.
Michael Khan is a sophomore in the College. This is the final appearance of Mr. Right.
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