Students don’t have to tolerate hateful speakers on campus

A recent spate of campus protests — namely, a particularly contentious  response to conservative author Charles Murray, who spoke at Middlebury College on March 1 —  has broken new ground in think pieces penned by older Americans. These criticisms serve to revitalize the long tradition of deploring colleges’ descents into so-called “safe spaces” and college students’ penchants for bubble-wrapping themselves against ideas they deem unpleasant. The country’s young people, these writers argue, have become too soft, narrow-minded and idealistic in believing that they can use protest to eliminate opinions they don’t agree with.

In his recent piece “The Dangerous Safety of College,” New York Times columnist Frank Bruni writes: “The moral of the recent melee at Middlebury College, where students shouted down and chased away a controversial social scientist, isn’t just about free speech, though that’s the rubric under which the ugly incident has been tucked. It’s about emotional coddling. It’s about intellectual impoverishment.”

Coddling? One is forced to wonder if Bruni understands how condescending and close-minded his phrasing is. No one is being coddled in this day and age, except perhaps a certain demographic of people who have never had to worry about ingrained prejudice against them. College students are as angry and afraid as everyday Americans. How can they be pillowed and safe when they remain rooted in the real and terrifying arena of American politics, fearing deportation for themselves and their families, fearing lack of access to health care, fearing that they will not be able to re-enter the United States and fearing violence against themselves for the color of their skin? Separated from their parents and hometown communities, students are being thrust into a political reality alone for the first time.

When a speaker like Murray comes to Middlebury College, with his history of asserting that a biological intelligence gap exists between white and black people, students have a right to be angry (though, it should be noted, not a right to cause injury). This is because college is not a vacuum. College is not a bubble; rather, it is a microcosm of reality, a practice for the real battle to come. Universities are not windowless compounds where students remain closed off from the outside world for four years. The fact remains: Students work in cities, involve themselves in political campaigns, read and write the news and travel to experience the cultures of foreign countries. Many students pay their own tuition. Some students have families to take care of.

It is impossible to live in a soft, liberal-only environment when students receive CNN alerts several times a day about the incompetent president’s every move, read reports about mass shootings and police brutality and are constantly bombarded with the violent targeting of brown Americans due to their race. This environment cannot be a bubble when  refugees are told that the American dream is not for them, the city of Flint still lacks access to clean water, transgender Americans are denied the basic dignity of using the bathroom, Planned Parenthood is defunded and steep limitations to abortion persist.

Campus protest is less about crafting a “safe space” than about utilizing vigor and collective passion to organize against a set of ideas that are so clearly backward. And to ask college students to be quiet — moreover, that they politely let Murray talk: That implies inaction. And this is dangerous territory to tread. Because where, then, does this being quiet turn into something far more lethal: passivity? If university life is preparation for the real world, and students are to tolerate these ideas now in their four years, then where does this take them when they graduate? If they are taught to be quiet now, when will it be acceptable for them to speak up?

If older Americans have the gall to lecture college students on respect and open-mindedness, want to tell them to sit down and shut up and receive the well-rounded higher education they paid for, then they at least should give students the credit of using the education they’ve received. College students are informed and intelligent, rhetorical and incisive. They will not tolerate hatred, will not give hateful people a platform and will continue to protest bigotry with all the force of the intellectual and argumentative tools they have been given.

University students were taught to use their words to argue. They were educated about global revolutions and the promise of the people. They took decades worth of history and social studies classes, read dozens of books warning against fascism and authoritarianism and Big Brother. And throughout it all, they were tested on and evaluated upon their abilities to apply this material. So now, when it is time to reflect on the most important lessons learned in college — the skill of speaking and arguing one’s own opinion — they are told to hold back, rethink, delve once again into hypothesis and theory?

How dare anyone restrain them. Older Americans gave these students their education, and now they must contend with a reality in which students finally take it upon themselves to apply it.

It is a highly narrow-minded and pretentious perspective to paint college students as soft, liberal babies who cannot even stand to hear opinions that disagree with them. No. The threat of the real world — with all its bigotry and hate — does not end at the university gate. And after almost two decades of sitting in classrooms and being given detentions for talking out of hand, college students owe it to no one to continue to practice their listening skills, especially when applied to speech that denigrates themselves and those they love. Students owe it to no one to tolerate and listen to hatred, least of all themselves.

Perhaps those who propose that hate speech be allowed to exist on campus should look inside themselves and determine their own motivation for wanting students to tolerate and listen to reprehensible rhetoric such as that of Murray. Just as the world will not benefit from offering platforms to hateful speakers, so, too, does it go for colleges. Whose mind will be enlightened, pray tell, if he or she just takes the time to respect and listen to Murray or former Breitbart Editor Milo Yiannopoulos or someone in the vein of White House chief adviser Stephen Bannon or white nationalist Richard Spencer?

Of course, protests that utilize violence should never be tolerated. Nor should the starting of fires, the vandalism of buildings or the injuring of people. But intellectual and rhetorical peaceful protest, arguments that stem from deeply held values and that challenge personal beliefs — that is what college is for. That is what life is for. And if older Americans want to sit in the real world and pretend that college students exist outside of it, then they should at least give students the credit of practicing the skills they’ve been taught and conditioned with for 20 years.

11 replies
  1. personnext
    personnext says:

    Don’t attach your name to such inane articles if you want a career in journalism. Looks like you’ll be unemployable outside of Gawker.

  2. mcasey6
    mcasey6 says:

    If the writer is to be believed, a significant portion of students at Middlebury face constant police harassment and deportation on a daily basis, a fantasy she somehow connects to Charles Murray. Here I was thinking they were in one of the most elite institutions on earth, complete with great food, cushy dorms, gyms, pools and well paid campus cops, luxuries unimaginable to 99% of humans. I wonder if people really knew how rough things got at Middlebury they would still drop $60,000/year to send their little ones there.

  3. I SIAO
    I SIAO says:

    Children, kids, late teenagers who have yet to work and live in the real world, enjoy your time in college. Learn as much as you can! Learn your facts and stand your grounds! Dream big and live your dreams! This is what the 1st Amendment is all about. Fight on! Never quit!

  4. Benjamin Roberts
    Benjamin Roberts says:

    Actually, yes… Students do have to tolerate hateful speakers on campus. After all, the measure of one’s tolerance is not determined by their acceptance of what they agree with, but what they disagree with.

    The real question here is the definition of “hateful”. For Democrats, it’s basically anything or anyone who disagrees with them. They think you are hateful if you believe immigrants should come here legally, or face deportation. They blame everyone except the illegal immigrant for the separation of families or other consequences of coming here illegally. They think it’s hateful if you actually believe marriage is something straight people do by definition. They think you’re hateful if you think models should be uniquely attractive and not average…or Downs Syndrome or overweight. They think you’re hateful if you harbour any fear or reserve with respect to the Islamic faith in the face of global terrorism by rogue Muslims. They think you’re hateful if you think the Muslim practice of wearing a hajib is antithetical to America’s and Western civilization’s view on women’s liberties. They think you’e hateful if you refuse to accept the lie that humans can choose their gender, because you believe in the scientific and binary realities of science with regard to gender …and therefore want public bathrooms and locker rooms to be used accordingly.

    I could go on and on. Liberal politics and ideology has become so extreme, and out of touch with reality, science, and much of America. In short, liberal politics is antithetical to the judeo-Christian values on which Western civilization is founded… values that even mainstream secular and non-religious people usually accept. There is nothing hateful about resisting the extreme and perverse indoctrination sweeping our college campuses today.

  5. Lunderful
    Lunderful says:

    Don’t disrupt any speaker’s event on campus. Others have the right to listen. Don’t like the speaker? Don’t attend. Simply…..really.

  6. Don Harmon
    Don Harmon says:

    Hate speech? Calls for violence? Calls for unfair discrimination against people by race, religion, gender choice, physical appearance? Of course those do not belong at USC. The problem comes when students or administrations will not allow those to speak who are conservative. Am I conservative? No! But I am sickened when free speech and discussion is forbidden on that basis alone. THAT kind of narrow-minded, unthinking, orthodox, unfair discrimination does not belong at USC, either.

  7. Thekatman
    Thekatman says:

    This opinion piece was written by the mind of a teenager who may have been educated in the UE, under 50 years of liberalism. You poor chilr. Your mind has been twisted into thinking that fascism and liberalism is good for the country. It is not. Your liberal views are t he by product of years of indoctrination into the world of liberal Democratic priciples, which history has proven don’t work.

    And you call your president incompetent? He has accomplished more in his early days than most presidents, despite the obstructionist attacks of Sen. Chuck Schumer and even the RHINOS in the GOP. Trump was elected by an overwhelming landslide victory because we have had enough of the destructive, manipulative policies of the L I beryl political leadership over the past 8 years, and even the craziness of Bush and Clinton.

    We have taken back our country and we are moving forward to bring back economic freedom and global respect. Come along with or not, in the end your life m will prosper and be better for it.

    Additiinally, illegally entering this country is a felony no matter how hard the liberal establishment tries to change the meaning and effect, you are an illegal alien, a trespasser and must be death with according to the laws of the land. Even our fearless leader Obama stated that same thought, though he wasn’t effective at carrying it out. You see, Democrats want illegals to gain citizenship so that they, like the black and Hispanic community ities, will be beholden to the Dems for handouts, entitlements, thus their vote. You see, the Dems are not a benevolent group. They don’t want citizens and legal immigrants to have a job and work for a living, to have their own money, their own power to live their oives. Dems want to own you through the ever tightening noose of power and control over you, the way you live, learn, think and say via handouts, freebies. They don’t want to teach you to fish. They will give the fish to you, but you will always pay the price.

    So be are fully what you wish for, for the unintended circumstances will not be pleasant.

    • mitch
      mitch says:

      “Trump was elected by an overwhelming landslide victory” I’m assuming you mean the electoral college. Sir, you do realize that Trump did not win the popular vote, correct?

      • Benjamin Roberts
        Benjamin Roberts says:

        I will only address one component of your comment here, and that is that women in society can’t have it both ways. They can’t demand “equality” while also wanting to be treated differently or specially. Female writers on this or any forum are subject to the same scrutiny and criticism as any other writer.

      • Thekatman
        Thekatman says:

        Mitch, thank you for reading my posts and commenting. This is what the 1st Amendment is all about. You don’t agree with my comments, but that’s cool, young man. Everyone has an opinion and I choose to state mine here when I think it is necessary.

        As far as your attack against me for commenting of only the female posts, that’s a good observation. Again, you’re reading and learning. I am special in your life this afternoon and own some space in your memory.

        For the most part, guys write about sports. the female contributors, lately, have been pushing ideologies that are contrary to our values. The Womens March was not about women. it was about pushing a man hating, leftist ideology that excludes at least 2 groups of women.. Conservative women were not allowed to march with the other females, and the pro-choice movement , which was the most pursed story line of those marches excludes all female babies that were murdered by their mothers. Does that make the mothers actually hosts that killed their somewhat symbiotic life form aka their offspring? Their baby? Their child?

        And yes, you are children, kids, late teenagers who have yet to work and live in the real world… so yes, I do take my many years of experience to heart. You do not know me, nor where I came from, nor my experiences, so try if you can, to be respectful of your elders, as we know a lot more than you, we have lived through the good times and the bad times, we have fought wars for your freedom. And many have given the ultimate sacrifice of their lives to protect that freedom. So yes…. and we have forgotten much more than you’ll learn. Again, thank you for taking the time to read my post and comment. I love the dialog and will look forward ot more as the semester continues…….. However, with that said, I can’t wait for football season. It’s gonna be a great year. Fight On…..

Comments are closed.