In a politically divisive climate, college campuses have come to reflect the polarizing political and racial attitudes in the United States. Last year, The Atlantic reported that student engagement and political activism are at an all-time high among college and high school students, with a 2.9 percentage growth of a student having a “very good chance” of participating in a protest.
However, the rise of student activism disproportionately represents all student opinions, which has led to the suppression of speech and ideas by the majority: left-wing students. The protests at the University of California, Berkeley against conservative speakers Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos and, most recently, the riots at Evergreen State College demonstrate the one-sidedness of students’ political engagement and the detrimental effects of silencing opposing political viewpoints.
Annually, Evergreen hosts the Day of Absence and the Day of Presence. Evergreen’s website states that the two-day event aims to address current racial issues on its campus and beyond. This year, however, Evergreen erupted in a student protest because of a racial dispute on the Day of Absence, according to the Cooper Point Journal. The event is a day in which white students and faculty were invited to leave campus for the activity. Biology professor Bret Weinstein spoke out against the forceful and oppressive tactic used by the student group. In an e-mail to one of the event’s organizers, Weinstein stated that these decisions are “an act of oppression, in and of itself” and did not participate in the Day of Absence by staying and teaching on campus.
In response to his actions, dozens of student protesters interrupted his class, demanding his apology and resignation. Although Weinstein initially attempted to have a civil discussion with the students regarding his decision to not participate in the Day of Absence, they shouted him down seeking one thing and one thing only: his resignation or firing. The students’ claim that Weinstein’s inaction and views toward the Day of Absence are racist.
Unfortunately, the incident at Evergreen showcases the biased mentality of left-wing college students across the country: Many are quick to dismiss outspoken ideas that do not align with their own beliefs. It is critical for university students to engage in open and free discourse of ideas to showcase the most important and substantive form of diversity: intellectual diversity and diversity of opinion.
Higher education should not be a safe space meant to coddle and reaffirm students’ sociopolitical beliefs and values. Rather, college should be an open arena for intellectually honest debates on key issues facing the world. If students continue to blatantly disregard opposing opinions, they will become confined to an echo chamber of ideas with no solution to real world problems. Students must learn to critically analyze and understand others’ perspectives to effectively engage in substantial change in the social and political arenas.
Disappointingly, in recent months, several speaker events on campuses have been shut down due to disruptive protests and violence. From Ben Shapiro’s speech at CSU Los Angeles to Richard Spencer’s event at Auburn University, there is growing prevalence of student-motivated protests encouraging the suppression of the free speech of challenging — and often political — viewpoints. However, free speech, along with the acknowledgement of opposing opinions, remain crucial on college campuses. No student or group of students should have the right to ban or prevent a speaker from hosting a discussion on a college campus.
Although student opinion provides valuable input and diversity onto a campus community, protesting a speaker — especially one that presents certain political alignments — oversteps a student’s right to free speech. These protests come at the cost of stifling other students’ speech, ideas and opinions, and these students’ perspectives are usually in the minority. Activism and engagement on campus should strive to represent the beliefs of all students: A majority group should not hold the right to dictate their opinions and unjustifiably project it by demanding compliance from the entire student body. This behavior tramples on students’ right to free speech by determining that free speech only matters if a certain opinion goes along with it.
The riots at Evergreen is the latest casualty to the overwhelming left-wing opinions represented on college campuses, and students’ disregard for any conflicting opinions. Rather than acknowledge others’ arguments, students ostracize those who speak out against them: intimidating and labeling individuals as racist, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist. The bottom line is that what Weinstein did was right and in no way did he deserve the students’ treatment. Students at Evergreen State College (or any college, for that matter) have no right to force students of a particular racial group off of a college campus for the sake of empowerment. As Weinstein wrote, “On a college campus, one’s right to speak — or to be — must never be based on skin color.”