Massachusetts Daily Collegian

What happened to free speech?

By Lucas Coughlin

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(Protesters, students and media fill Traditions Plaza during a press conference following the Concerned Students 1950 protest on Monday, Nov. 9 2015, in Columbia, Mo. Michael Cali/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

(Protesters, students and media fill Traditions Plaza during a press conference following the Concerned Students 1950 protest on Monday, Nov. 9 2015, in Columbia, Mo. Michael Cali/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

A few years ago, my uncle told me a story about his time in college that, in light of the recent unrest at various universities across the country, is particularly germane.

While he was an undergraduate student at Dartmouth University in the 1950s, the school invited a “scientist” of eugenics to give a speech. As eugenicists are accustomed to do, he held forth about the genetic inferiority of African Americans and the need for population control. According to my uncle, he gave his speech uninterrupted and when the time for questions came about his argument was rightly dismembered by some of the black members of the audience.

Once upon a time, colleges were places where ideas were set against each other, with the understanding that the stronger ideas would prevail in the minds of the public and the weaker ones would dissipate. To judge from the behavior of the protestors, that is no longer the case. Students today are interested only in their own ideas and have demonstrated a willingness to go to extreme measures to preserve ideological uniformity.  Safe spaces, trigger warnings and the like exist to stultify debate and to limit conversation about potentially disquieting topics. The anti-speech impulse that has manifested itself clearly in the recent protests at Yale University, the University of Missouri and Ithaca College is the logical extension of an ideology more interested in making itself heard than proving itself right.

What may have started as a movement with a laudable goal has become a microcosm of the problems with modern campus culture. To protest incidents of hate is hardly objectionable, but the bullying of journalists and the restrictions of speech that have come about are borderline fascistic.

The alleged incidents at Missouri – racist remarks made in the vicinity of the campus by locals and a swastika made of fecal matter found in a bathroom – cannot logically be blamed on the school’s president. Demanding his resignation shows that the protesters are interested primarily in punishing the administration. The way to go about dealing with racism is not to coerce school administrators into resignation, nor is it to intimidate reporters. And it is most definitely not to try to silence those who are interested in dialogue.

The obnoxious haranguing that the Missouri protests have devolved into and the frighteningly Orwellian speech codes being implemented are hallmarks of our mollycoddled generation. We are scared to take on ideas we oppose and more likely to retreat to a safe space or shout down our opponents than to engage with them. We are not brave for this, nor are we enlightened. We are risible.

What will the current crop of college students be remembered for? For finally defeating the menace of classic authors on the syllabus? For refusing to succumb to the oppressive, atavistic document that is the Bill of Rights? For winnowing down language to remove the possibility of dissent, for refusing to tolerate anything that could possibly construed as offensive, and for being utterly unprepared to deal with life outside of the university? That seems to be the direction we’re headed.

Every new generation that comes of age wants to change the world in some way, but the world that our generation seemingly wants to create is one where freedom is secondary to feelings. Count me out.

Lucas Coughlin is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]


19 Responses to “What happened to free speech?”

  1. C Walker on November 17th, 2015 9:00 am

    I liked parts of your article. You highlight some good points. To start, the reference to a debate scenario where opposing views can present and the stronger prevails. Unfortunately this isn’t how the opposition to minority presence or perspective presents itself. Hence, overt vs. covert racism. You seem to take issue with the idea of safe spaces for minorities, but what of the safe spaces white (male)s have benefited from by design, offices of administration to white male fraternities, often secluded from minority interaction, and dissenting viewpoints. “The way to go about dealing with racism…” and then you don’t offer any solutions is really a copout. Discrediting minority viewpoints, minimizing their frustration to whining, isn’t setting a table for discourse. You say you want to see dialogue, but only in the language you approve.

  2. KB on November 17th, 2015 10:43 am

    Amherst College Kids Demand President Must Apologize !
    For Lord Jeffrey Amherst Sending Small Pox Blankets To The Indians!
    ..which is a real howler since the germ theory of disease didn’t exist till after the telephone was invented..
    Seems Umiz “Journalism” Prof Melissa Click got her radical chops and wrote her “Doctoral Thesis” on “the unbearable whiteness of Martha Stewart” at UMASS…she also published really neat articles about Lady Gaga ..and vampires … before she became a champion of NO FREE SPEECH
    And right down the road it seems the Amherst College kids are not to be outdone ..
    Protesters are demanding the school president must also apologize for signs that say:
    AND TEACH THEM TOLERANCE!…. Hey Harry..que the twilight zone music..
    Jonathan Chait said: “The upsurge of political correctness is not just greasy-kid stuff, and it’s not just a bunch of weird, unfortunate events that somehow keep happening over and over. It’s the expression of a political culture with consistent norms, and philosophical premises that happen to be incompatible with liberalism. The reason every Marxist government in the history of the world turned massively repressive is not because they all had the misfortune of being hijacked by murderous thugs. It’s that the ideology itself prioritizes class justice over individual rights and makes no allowance for legitimate disagreement”….
    It seems like nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of the “glorious march of progress”..

  3. Zac Bears on November 17th, 2015 11:39 am

    As a recent grad, I have never felt that any debate over ideas has been stifled in the classroom or in conversation.

    As to heckling at public debates, that’s not a left politics issue. Just look at the GOP Congressman who heckled the president at his state of the union. Our public discourse is poisoned by polarization, not “political correctness” (which is just another right-wing fantasy caricature created to demonize those who want to stop people from being bigots in public spaces).

  4. Kris on November 17th, 2015 12:48 pm

    Zac, you never felt that way because of cognitive dissonance. When your teacher dismisses students with more conservative ideas in front an impressionable classroom of not yet fully matured minds, you think “Yeah, that person was wrong anyhow.”

  5. KB on November 17th, 2015 3:09 pm

    Yes Comrade Bears are correct ..I must have been hallucinating all those “free speech zones”.. boopshoobie Yale co-eds screechin at the top of their lungs about some dumb Halloween costumes and “safe spaces” ..or the Dartmouth crew ransacking the library .. forgive me please. Someone must have put some a that right wing kool aid in the peoples drinking water!.. I will now return for re-education from the tolerance committee. By the way ..I saw my roommate watching Fox news ..should I report him ministry of truth?.. for he is certainly double ungood and must endure his 2 minutes of hate!..

  6. Dan Malis on November 17th, 2015 9:48 pm

    The fact that there’s argument even on this topic indicates that free speech isn’t really muted on college campuses.

    But consider this: I think (and yes, this is my opinion, however modestly held) that some speech is so ludicrous; so injurious; so unfounded and frankly, wrong; that access to students, a privilege for the speaker as much as for students, just shouldn’t be accepted. Wilson’s eugenics work is a great example which I frankly think works against you. Tolerating speech from a member of the Klan would be another. And there’s the question of laying laurels upon a graduation speaker, which is an outright endorsement of a speaker in addition to providing a bully pulpit.

    Should, on balance, the decision favor free speech and good manners? Perhaps, and kudos to the student population at Liberty University who treated Bernie Sanders with good manners and deference. But understand the view of students who feel that we’ve been far too tolerant of overt racism in our culture for too long and wish to recognize the rawness of their feelings. If you’re arguing respect and sensitivity, the students should be shown it as well.

  7. Justin on November 17th, 2015 10:28 pm

    Lol, when was the last time you had to worry about literal death threats?

  8. Anna H. on November 17th, 2015 10:36 pm

    This is incredibly inappropriate, inaccurate, and offensive.

  9. Brian on November 17th, 2015 11:06 pm

    This is a poorly-argued and repulsive monologue. I just vomited.

    Have you ever tried listening? For you to feel that a collective objection to unjust treatment is “obnoxious,” silencing, or coercive, is a sign you have some serious thinking to do; it starts by putting aside your rude and thoughtless demand for “dialogue,” and taking time to shut up and listen.

  10. Mike Avanzato on November 17th, 2015 11:53 pm

    Super unimpressed by the Collegian’s choice of Op Eds lately. I feel like right wingers claim their freedom is being infringed on when people can’t dedicate class time to how wrong they are.

    There’s no anti-speech component. You can say whatever you want, and anyone can say what they want in response, including explaining your bigotry.

    I’ve never understood how/why trigger warnings hurt anyone and freak everyone out. Honestly this drips of privilege.

  11. Alumni Achieved on November 18th, 2015 12:02 am

    And Anna shows us exactly how the current generation has no thick skin…

    I am only in my late twenties, and I am progressive on almost all issues. However, I worry about the lack of courtesy the current students have towards anything against them. Limiting the first amendment on public property in the names of feelings is quite literally, fascism!

  12. JB on November 18th, 2015 8:55 am

    Anna H, can you please say why you felt that way rather than declaring how offended you are?

  13. Kris on November 18th, 2015 9:52 am

    JB, your question is triggering me.

  14. Lucas Coughlin on November 18th, 2015 10:41 am

    “no one is telling you to shut up! all we’re saying is, shut up!”

  15. Zac Bears on November 18th, 2015 12:23 pm

    No one is telling you to shut up. They’re just telling you not to be an ignorant jerk with what comes out of your mouth.

  16. KB on November 18th, 2015 1:44 pm

    Oh I get it ..Lucas ..Zac is merely telling you to stop saying what comes out of your mouth ..and start saying what comes out of his mouth.. AKA “Shut up!..they explained”

  17. KB on November 20th, 2015 9:22 am

    When Melissa Click told the Umiz journalist “you have to leave” ..he responded.. “no I don’t ” I’m just wonderin you would have responded?..

  18. KB on November 30th, 2015 9:53 am

    Come on Zac.. the whole world ….aah maybe six of us are waiting for your answer.

  19. KB on November 30th, 2015 9:57 am

    Just wonderin ..when are youse guys gonna start burnin the books?
    If I remember correctly.. in Fahrenheit 451 the books were burned to protect peoples feelings..
    Captain Beaty tells Montag.. “It didn’t come from the government down,” he tells him. “There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no!”… It was a desire not to offend—of an earnest notion to literally have “everyone made equal.” And it’s at the end of this speech that we get the killer passage:
    “You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, What do we want in this country above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right?…Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book.”
    “Serenity.. Montag”. “Peace.. Montag.”.. “Take your fight outside. Better yet.. to the incinerator.” “We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought”… or retreat to our safe spaces.
    Bradbury says..“Of course there is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches.”

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