Free speech requires two-way conversations


Maia Kennedy

“New censorship on campus,” “Free Speech Codes,” “Safe Spaces”—these headlines are plastered all over national and local media regarding censorship on modern college campuses.

To support students’ and faculty members’ freedom of speech, organizations such as FIRE, (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) have sprung up around the country to handle free speech cases brought to court. How can we voice our opinions without offending people’s feelings and how do we know what is offensive?

Higher education institutions pride themselves on their students’ diverse ethnicities, cultures, gender identification, and economic status. However, many students still feel that they cannot share their points of view.

A study was conducted by various scholars, including CEO and President of FIRE, Greg Lukianoff, where students were asked if they felt safe to voice their opinions on campus. Approximately 40 percent of students agreed with the statement and that percentage decreased the more time that they studied at their university. This trend can be interpreted to mean that many students come in to college expecting to freely voice their opinions, but unfortunately come to find out otherwise. Freedom of speech shouldn’t be limited to one party or opinion. Students are going to think differently and that is an integral part of the diversity that makes up America. That is a not a bad thing.

Once the diverse ideas are spoken, students, parties and institutions must realize that there needs to exist a willingness to listen. President George Washington recognized the importance of listening. He commonly refrained from saying anything in Congress, just so he could learn from everyone else’s points of view. In today’s polarized society, people often avoid conversations with others who think differently than themselves.

However, there is so much to learn from listening to both sides of a story. Not just hearing, but truly listening. How can students develop educated thoughts if only exposed to one side? Opinions toward a particular idea should be focused on the idea, not on whom presented it. This way of thinking is what is needed on the modern college campus to learn from each other and fully realize a diverse culture. The idea is out there, and the student is willing to listen.

However, the student or party might not agree with certain opinions or statements, and that is okay. Respectfully accepting differences is tolerance, and diversity requires it. There is a difference between an argument and a debate. In a debate, each person has the opportunity to speak, and while it is evident of their difference in opinion, participants often look past that difference once the debate is over.

Contrarily, in an argument, participants often talk over each other, attack each other’s character and feel resent and offense after. It seems like there are more arguments than debates going on these days, especially on the college campus.

The concept of “freedom of speech” might be plastered all over the media, but are we really there? Often times, students use vulgarity and insults in an attempt to emphasize their enthusiastic dedication to a certain cause, but in using such language, they have automatically succumbed to their own anger. Can we bridle our passion to express our ideas in a way that is civil? We need to do something about the lack of freedom of speech with thought-out, inviting and respectful dialogues. Will we be the generation that makes this happen? The diversity of ideas is out there. Let us hear them, respectfully accept the differences, and instigate a change in how we interact and communicate with each other.