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The Death of Free Speech on College Campuses

From trigger warnings to "free speech zones," the First Amendment is in peril on campus.

One of the truly delightful things about college is that it allows earnest young people to try out all sorts of ridiculous ideas without causing much lasting harm. After graduation, most will grow up and learn how to laugh at their prior selves. (The rest will become professors.) Let’s hope the undergrads and grad students involved in some recent controversies become part of the former group.

First, a student legislative council at the University of California-Irvine approved (6-4) a resolution to ban the American flag from student government offices. The banners felt those should be “inclusive” spaces, while the American flag has been “flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism.” And besides – get this – “freedom of speech, in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible, can be interpreted as hate speech.”

The student government’s executive cabinet promptly vetoed the resolution, and the school administration called it misguided. But hundreds of academics, grad students, and undergraduates from around the country signed a letter in support of the Irvine Six, arguing that the “paraphernalia of nationalism is in fact often used to intimidate” and that “the resolution has drawn admiration nationally from much of the academic community.”

Then there’s Yik Yak, a social-media site popular on many campuses that allows people to post, anonymously, the sort of idiotic and insulting nonsense we’ve all come to expect in such anonymous fora. Yik Yak is therefore controversial, and some schools have tried to ban it. In urging her own school to do so, a Louisiana State University student contended that “free speech is constitutionally protected. Hate speech is not.” But that’s a false dichotomy. Hate speech is, in fact, constitutionally protected speech, as many pointed out after the University of Oklahoma expelled two members of a disgraced fraternity for participating in a racist chant.

Also recently, the student government at The George Washington University approved a measure requiring student leaders to attend LGBT sensitivity training regarding, inter alia, “using proper gender pronouns.” A conservative student group, the Young America’s Foundation chapter at GW, declined to go along. YAF treats everyone with respect, said representative Amanda Robbins, and doesn’t need to be lectured on how to do so.

You can imagine how well that went over. The campus LGBT group, Allied in Pride, responded that YAF’s “refusal to use preferred gender pronouns should be considered an act of violence.” The comment calls to mind the Social Justice Kittens calendar, which features adorable kittens saying things such as “this conversation doesn’t make me feel safe” and “you are jeopardizing my well-being with your violent refusal to agree.”

Episodes such as these – along with the increasing demand for “trigger warnings,” the campaigns to stamp out “microaggressions,” and so forth – neatly illustrate the snake-swallowing-its-own-tail nature of political correctness. Its support for diversity produces demands for conformity. Its insistence on inclusivity requires it to exclude those who, say, swell with pride at the sight of Old Glory. Its efforts to make the classroom a “safe space” have made classes unsafe for those whose views deviate from the campus norm. It deploys macro-aggression – coercion and compulsion – to punish such non-aggressive acts as the peaceful withholding of consent.

The campaign against hate speech – or merely offensive speech, or just any speech the listener disagrees with – rests on a couple of different rationales. The first is that hateful speech can lead to hateful acts: Racial epithets might lead to lynching, for example. But there is no real empirical evidence to support that claim. Indeed, on today’s campus any violence is more likely to be directed at the offending speaker, rather than at his intended target. (E.g, when an anti-abortion protester showed up a few days ago at the University of Oregon, he didn’t change any minds, but students did snatch his poster and tear it up. “This is not part of your First Amendment right,” they said.)

The second reason for protecting students from thoughts and ideas they find upsetting is to spare their tender feelings. But this effort is self-defeating. Even if it were possible to measure emotional pain, and to decide at what point such pain should (pardon the term) trigger the censor’s veto, it is not possible to protect everyone’s feelings the way we can protect everyone’s rights.

A regime that protects everyone’s free-speech rights can allow both the gay-rights advocate and the Christian fundamentalist to speak her mind. But a regime concerned with protecting people’s feelings inevitably will hurt either the fundamentalist’s feelings (by allowing only the gay-rights advocate to speak) or the advocate’s feelings (by allowing only the fundamentalist to speak). Unless, of course, it hurts both of their feelings by letting neither of them speak. No matter what, though, it allows the censors to dismiss some people’s claims for consideration as less worthy. (You sometimes get the sense that’s exactly what the campus censors want.)

What’s more, any regime that “privileges” feelings over rights inevitably will ignore the very real emotional pain experienced by another important group: those who cherish individual liberty and abhor censorship of any kind. There are still a few of them left – even on the modern American campus.

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  • TxJack 112||

    College campuses are the most restrictive locations in the US in terms of free speech. Anyone who dares to challenge the progressive ideology being pushed is attacked, verbally and physically. Muslims have been the source of the dramatic rise of Antisemitism over the past year and are working to silence anyone critical of Islam. Abortion, Immigration, climate change, LBGT rights are all issues that require students to follow the dogma of the left or they risk being expelled from school for being "intolerant". The simple truth is those who claim to be tolerant and open to all ideas are in reality the most intolerant and narrow-minded people in the country.

  • sarcasmic||

    Tolerance means not tolerating intolerance.

  • Quixote||

    And, of course, tolerance also means not tolerating inappropriately deadpan forms of satire directed against well-connected academic department chairmen teaching at institutions like New York University. Anyone who might be tempted to engage in that sort of inappropriate speech should expect the deans and dons of academia to take immediate action in the criminal courts. See the documentation of America's leading criminal satire case, including background on the still emerging scandal involving certain NYU officials, at:

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • mtrueman||

    "The simple truth is those who claim to be tolerant and open to all ideas are in reality the most intolerant and narrow-minded people in the country."

    If it's that simple you must have data to back it up. Otherwise I suspect the simple truth is you are parroting empty slogans you've heard repeated on TV or radio.

  • rocks||

    If you need some data to back up TxJack's statement.

    Here is a self-reference link to the above article.
    http://reason.com/archives/201.....llege-camp

  • mtrueman||

    However persuasive you find them, 3 or 4 anecdotes is not quite what I had in mind when I asked for data.

  • Sevo||

    mtrueman|3.18.15 @ 3:13PM|#
    "However persuasive you find them, 3 or 4 anecdotes is not quite what I had in mind when I asked for data."

    YOU, who simply admits to lying and NEVER provides cites for your ridiculous claims. YOU ask for data?
    Buzz off.

  • mtrueman||

    "YOU ask for data?"

    If you are trying to tell me there is no data, I already knew that.

  • RJ The Terrible||

    No. He's telling you you're an ass. Do you get it now?

  • mtrueman||

    "No. He's telling you you're an ass. Do you get it now?"

    Bad news for you RJ, it's you who's the ass, as is anyone else who feels it necessary to interpret the words of a dullard like Sevo. I, on the other hand, am a smart ass, someone who knows the difference between data and anecdote.

  • Sevo||

    " I, on the other hand, am a smart ass, someone who knows the difference between data and anecdote."
    No, you are a stupid shit who is incapable of separating your opinions from facts.

  • mtrueman||

    And you really could do with someone to help you with your writing. Frankly, they lack verve, wit and a light touch. Bluster and tired insults will only take you so far.

  • Sevo||

    mtrueman|3.19.15 @ 3:03AM|#
    "And you really could do with someone to help you with your writing. Frankly, they lack verve, wit and a light touch. Bluster and tired insults will only take you so far."

    No, I need no help whatsoever to identify a slimy liar. My writing lacks nothing at all in that regard.
    Your 'writing' OTOH, lacks what most anyone would call 'honesty'. Or perhaps some degree of 'ethics'.
    Instead, we get a constant stream of bullshit from mtrueman, and there's hardly anyone here who doesn't know it; see RJ, above.

  • Sevo||

    mtrueman|3.18.15 @ 3:48PM|#
    "If you are trying to tell me there is no data,"

    And to add to RJ's astute observation, you're also a hypocritical piece of shit.
    Buzz off.

  • mtrueman||

    "you're also a hypocritical piece of shit."

    You should know by now, I'm far far worse than that.

  • Sevo||

    mtrueman|3.18.15 @ 7:15PM|#
    "You should know by now, I'm far far worse than that."

    No, you're not. Don't bother ascribing more importance to some loser blogger than is warranted.
    You're an ignorant, lying POS who wonders around the web hoping to be noticed.
    Fuck off.

  • Rich||

    “freedom of speech, in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible, can be interpreted as hate speech.”

    Uh, huh. And in *any* space, *that* statement can be interpreted as hate speech.

  • Almanian!||

    We re-instituted a mildly "underground" newspaper in college when I was the opinion editor of the "official" school paper. It was pretty cool. We had a variety of people put out some pretty edgy stuff.

    Pretty good reaction all around. Students seemed to enjoy it, admin and faculty mostly ignored it.

    Although I did get one history prof to proclaim, "Almanian is getting the students ready to march on campus!" implying violence and stuff. I'm still proud of that to this day,,,,

    Nowadays? I just don't see THESE KIDS THESE DAYS doing something like that - not at the schools I'm familiar with. It's, like, edgy to hate GW Bush and want him and Cheney brought up on war crimes. Oooooo! Super edgy!

    /rabble rouser

  • ||

    Be edgy and different. Just like everybody else.

  • Charles Easterly||

    "Be edgy and different. Just like everybody else"

    Let us recite The Non-Conformist Oath:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTwV3vG73cU

  • Sevo||

    Dark Lord of the Cis|3.18.15 @ 11:17AM|#
    "Be edgy and different. Just like everybody else."

    In SF, that's some self-described comic telling Bush jokes.

  • Loki||

    It's, like, edgy to hate GW Bush and want him and Cheney brought up on war crimes. Oooooo! Super edgy!

    Somewhat related: Trey Parker and Matt Stone have stated that when they first started college they were pretty much left wing progressives, mainly because that was what was edgy when they were growing up in more conservative surroundings.

    Then they got to college and saw the groupthink in action and how all the other students thought that following the leftist herd was so "edgy" and "cool." Apparently that's what lead them to a more quasi-libertarian outlook: the mindless groupthink they saw in everyone else at college and how intolerant everyone was of alternative views. Hopefully there's at least a few others on college campuses now who are having the same kind of "WTF" moment and waking up to the fact that being a mindless herd following prog really isn't that edgy at all.

  • Almanian!||

    Interesting.

  • B.P.||

    I attended CU at the same time as Parker and Stone. And here I am.

  • ColonelEngineer||

    Social conservatism has been re-introduced as "social progress." Don't say this. Don't do that. Conform to what "we" deem appropriate. This all sounds so familiar. Someone is inferior to you because of their skin color/gender/orientation? That's racist/sexist/homophobic/etc. Someone is superior to you for the same reasons? That's privilege. I swear, these people will jump in front of the "oppression train" if perpetuating their victimhood also perpetuates their narrative.

    I don't like conservatives but I abso-fucking-lutely hate progressives. And I'm all the more glad I went to a red school in a red state (that surprisingly had a green light rating from FIRE). Yeah, I sometimes heard shit that I didn't agree with. But it beats some uppity administrative proggy telling me that "words are hurtful."

    Grow a fucking spine.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    "...I'm all the more glad I went to a red school in a red state (that surprisingly had a green light rating from FIRE)."

    Why be surprised?

  • ColonelEngineer||

    I felt there was room for improvement in the campus speech codes.

  • Rhywun||

    I felt there was room for improvement in the campus speech codes.

    As in, eliminating them?

    Fuck... I went to a not-red school in a blue state and if we even had such a thing I don't remember it. Of course that was 20 years ago.

  • DesigNate||

    It died a long time ago.

  • Paul.||

    One of the truly delightful things about college is that it allows earnest young people to try out all sorts of ridiculous ideas without causing much lasting harm.

    Do we include "going to college" in that list?

  • Agile Cyborg||

    The particles of speech are flitting verses stunning or cajoling. Expression isn't a bullet and its momentum is only imaginary. Creativity atrophies when speech is paralyzed. The outcome of this shit spawns deadness of thought.

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's not about speech. It's about controlling the indoctrination process. I'm surprised they don't mandate on-campus living and restrict campus web access to ideologically approved sites.

  • Paul.||

    The Internet should come with a Trigger Warning.

  • ||

    Kind of ratings. Only instead of G, PG, PG-13, R, and X, they will have different letters for different sorts of triggers like R for racism, H for homophobia, S for sexism or rape, C for cis-gendered, and so forth.

  • Pro Libertate||

    We'd get all of the letters.

  • SimonJester||

    I like this idea. Can Google and Bing (lol) have checkboxes so that I can only see posts that meet a certain rating? I want to search for something, but want to filter out all the stupid politically correct shit. I want to read stuff that HASN'T gone through the filter of what we are supposed to think.

    It would be like looking through the little HBO guide back when I was a kid, trying to figure out how to get access to the TV, alone, when a show rated "SSC" would be on.

  • rocks||

    "The Internet should come with a Trigger Warning."

    Oh don't worry, the FCC will have a mandatory webpage rating system in place soon enough.

  • Loki||

    I'm surprised they don't mandate on-campus living and restrict campus web access to ideologically approved sites.

    You shouldn't give them ideas.

    Actually I think most colleges these days do require on campus living for at least the first year, and I seem to recall seeing something a while back about a college somewhere either trying to block certain websites or trying to suspend a student for accessing a site about the Westborrow Baptist Church (which they were only visiting for a research paper about hate speech or something). Pretty sure FIRE sued them over that.

  • ||

    Give it time ProL, give it time.

  • Ron||

    isn't that what net neutrality eventually do?

  • $park¥'s head exploded||

    From what I've seen, kids growing up these days are not really interested in freedom anyway. They're really only concerned with right thinking and being taken care of.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Also, they like their reflections. A lot.

  • Paul.||

    Stay out of my room, give me respect and hey, when's dinner?

  • $park¥'s head exploded||

    And don't expect me to help around the house or get a job.

    I've tried talking to my kids about government taking control of various things in their lives and I'm only ever met with apathy.

  • SimonJester||

    I am doing this, too, since my dad doing the same brought me here. (I was intorudced, far too early, to Brazil (the movie), South Park, Moon is a Harsh Mistress, etc.

    In fact, while talking about bullies with my 6 year old, after he understood what a bully is, I made sure he understood that the Government is the biggest bully of all, and the police are governments enforcers.

  • Loki||

    Stay out of my room...

    "Start paying rent. Until then it's my house and my room. And that means my rules, which means I can go in there anytime I want. You just store your shit and sleep there."

    ...give me respect...

    "You'll get respect when you've earned it. Until then, you're a puke."

    ...when's dinner?

    "When you fix it yourself. You want to live in my house rent free and eat my food without paying for it or lifting a finger, then it's my house, my rules. You want your privacy and freedom? Get a job, start paying rent and feeding your own damn self and I'll stay out of your hair, until then STFU."

    Probably a good thing I don't have kids. They'd call CPS on me for "emotional abuse" or some shit.

  • chevy706||

    Of course, when they're 28, CPS never takes them away.

  • Loki||

    What’s more, any regime that “privileges” feelings over rights inevitably will ignore the very real emotional pain experienced by another important group: those who cherish individual liberty and abhor censorship of any kind.

    No shit. Where's my fucking trigger warning?

    Remember though that these PC pushing assclowns don't believe in the concept of natural rights and think that those who do are the authoritarians who want to "impose liberty" on everyone else. Freedom is slavery or some such bullshit.

  • SimonJester||

    Loki, you don't get a trigger warning. You are sub human. It isn't even the "impose liberty" bullshit. It is that you are less than they are. This is crucial. You don't deserve their protections, because they are elite (as defined by them and declared by their beliefs) and we rate lower on the food chain than they, and their preferred pets, do.

  • AlgerHiss||

    The almighty Mario Savio: What a joke and loser that little leftist idgit turned out to be.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    “freedom of speech, in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible, can be interpreted as hate speech.”

    War is Peace
    Freedom is Slavery
    Ignorance is Strength
    2+2=5

    “refusal to use preferred gender pronouns should be considered an act of violence.”

    I might be offended by this, then I remember who we're dealing with: Armchair revolutionaries, the children of wealth and privilege, people who have never actually suffered any violence, or done any violence. Sheltered, pampered little poodles, one and all.

  • Paul.||

    We're going through a weird 90s pc resurgence. I'm just hoping we can ride this storm out before we re-elect Hillary Clinton in '16.

  • $park¥'s head exploded||

    And it's always a huge freak out fest when actual violence happens nearby.

  • Charles Easterly||

    "The campus LGBT group, Allied in Pride, responded that YAF's 'refusal to use preferred gender pronouns should be considered an act of violence.'

    "this conversation doesn’t make me feel safe"

    "you are jeopardizing my well-being with your violent refusal to agree."

    This is all hard for me to accept - not that there are some who actually think this way, but that there are many that do and they are able to inculcate their belief system in a growing number of others.

    In the event that my fellow readers haven't had enough of this type of crazy, I'll add this: "Check Your Privilege" http://www.usfca.edu/The_Inter.....Privilege/

  • BuSab Agent||

    Just my opinion, but if a trans person has to force someone to use their preferred gender pronoun, they aren't doing it right. I can think of no sadder state than going from being an ugly man to a really ugly woman.

  • BuSab Agent||

    (who still looks like a man)

  • Loki||

    if a trans person has to force someone to use their preferred gender pronoun, they aren't doing it right.

    I suspect it's mostly the pre-op trannies that have issues. A lot of post ops look enough like their chosen gender that you often times can't tell the difference. Maybe the Adam's Apple still gives it away but that's all.

    I don't have an issue with calling someone whatever pronoun they want (what's in a name pronoun), but at the same time I can understand why some people might resist wanting to call someone who's still biologically a male "she/ her" or vice-versa. In fact I used to be more in the latter camp until I thought about it and realized I really shouldn't give a shit: it's not like it affects me one bit either way.

  • ColonelEngineer||

    If you're confident that the police exist to protect you, you have white male privilege.

    Bahahahahaha.... Oh man, my sides....

  • Charles Easterly||

    Colonel,

    Clearly these believers of the Privilege Axiom* do not inform themselves of certain realities which conflict with their views.

    The posters/handouts at the other side of that link are just mind-numbingly un-insightful and myopic.

    *Privilege Axiom - did I just coin something new?

  • ColonelEngineer||

    If I were to direct them towards instances of cops fucking up white people, or black cops fucking up black people or...well... whatever... they would suddenly turn into Six Sigma Black Belts, talking about how those instances are statistically insignificant and should be ignored to to prevent sample bias and blah buh blah blah blah

    I may or may not be speaking from experience.

  • Curtisls87||

    I haven't seen that much stupid in one place, ever.

  • SimonJester||

    Let me introduce you to Tony...

  • ||

    Trigger warnings in themselves don't bother me. What bothers me are the people who would hear a trigger warning, and interpret it as permission to walk out. Those who want trigger warnings, so they'll know in advance what ideas to block out.

    I can certainly sympathize with people who have experienced some past trauma and want to know that (say) X movie contains graphic rape images, so they can prepare themselves mentally. I don't sympathize at all with those who want the trigger warning so they can avoid being offended.

    So yeah, trigger warnings for graphic violence, ok, but not trigger warnings for someone using the n word.

  • DJ1706||

    Students coming to these silly conclusions is the natural outgrowth of professor after professor -- even "constitutional law" professors -- publicly spewing the same nonsense.

    The professors have no excuse. They should know better.

  • $park¥'s head exploded||

    You can't start a new society without some indoctrination.

  • ||

    In order to alter our social reality, you have to alter the people first.

  • Curtisls87||

    Speaking of "constitutional law" professors, Robert Reich has the perfect gig for Obama, after his presidency.

    Pardon me while I go scream in a corner...

    http://www.freedomworks.org/co.....reme-court

  • ||

    The next president, in all likelihood will be an R. Fat fuckin' chance they would anoint Obumbles as one of the Nazgul.

  • Cis-Gendered Shitlord||

    " ...it is not possible to protect everyone’s feelings the way we can protect everyone’s rights."

    Hinkel, you're missing the point. They don't care about everyone's feelings or everyone's rights. They only care about right-thinking people's rights and feelings.

    All others must go to re-education camps sensitivity training.

  • Jon B||

    This all was beginning to gain steam back when I was in college, but was still just a sparkle in a proggie's eye back then. As the article points out, it is so very hypocritical to cry for diversity and everyone being different individuals, but then demanding everyone think exactly the same. I guess diversity really just means different hair colors, piercings, or tattoos. Diversity of the mind is considered evil. I am so damn happy that I am not in college right now. I'd be freakin beat up and lynched by all the people who claim to love and care about everyone!

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    To me, the really sad part is that these people who claim to be utterly unable to hear any sort of dissent against their notions are the same people who claim that they're the smartest fucking people on the planet. In other words, the people who would be most able to deal with a diverse set of viewpoints in a calm intelligent fashion.

    Shit, a sack of taters contains more intellect, and more resilience to boot. There's no fucking way I'll let these weenies tell me how to live.

  • mtrueman||

    "But there is no real empirical evidence to support that claim. Indeed, on today’s campus any violence is more likely to be directed at the offending speaker, rather than at his intended target. (E.g, when an anti-abortion protester showed up a few days ago at the University of Oregon, "

    Not the sharpest thing I've read at Reason. If the writer thinks that an anti-abortion protestor showing up at a university a few days ago rises to the level of 'real empirical evidence' in support of his claim that any violence is more likely etc etc,

    "There's no data to prove that. In fact I have an anecdote that proves otherwise!"

  • Sevo||

    Well, you are certainly the expert in lying and not producing data, so there's that.

  • mtrueman||

    "the expert in lying"

    Very generous of you.

  • Sevo||

    You've so richly earned the honor!
    Buzz off.

  • mtrueman||

    Say, these anecdotes are really persuasive, aren't they.

  • Sevo||

    mtrueman|3.19.15 @ 3:08AM|#
    "Say, these anecdotes are really persuasive, aren't they."
    Yes, you've so richly earned the rep as a lying piece of shit. Keep it up; you can dig that hole much deeper yet, asshole.

  • Ron||

    To disagree with an opinion is now violence against the opinion and its holder and to not verbally agree with the opinion shall also be considered an aggressive act. the no win senario

  • crufus||

    Extremism in defense of sensitivity is no vice, and moderation in pursuit of sensitivity is no virtue!

  • TimothyLane||

    The simple reality is that the more liberal any community or institution is, the less free the inhabitants are to dissent from orthodoxy. The only freedom liberals support is the freedom to do, think, and say what they do. And getting their way is an irrevocable demand, no matter what they want or how extreme it is.

  • trshmnster the terrible||

    The simple reality is that the more liberal homogenous any community or institution is, the less free the inhabitants are to dissent from orthodoxy

    One doesn't have to be a progressive to be an asshole... it just so happens that progressives have the power, and thus most of the asshattery.

  • TimothyLane||

    I think there is an element of truth to this, particularly when the people who control the community/institution never have to face opposing views. But liberalism is especially teleological due to its entitlement mentality, which leads to the feeling of emotional entitlement. Also, liberals in academia and similar places have a much easier time avoiding opposing views than conservatives do in any places they similarly dominate.

  • Micu5||

    All this talk about triggers and intimidation ignores the most common cause of stress on college campuses: Studying for tests. They should eliminate all forms of testing in college courses. Only then will I be willing to pay $100K+ for a college education.

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  • Kate Gladstone||

    I have been wondering how the "roll-your-own-set-of-neo-pronouns-to-insist-on" ("hir / zie"/ etc.) manage when they are learning/communicating in a second, third, etc., language.

    For instance: when a college student who has selected (when speaking English) the Politically Correctitudinous new pronouns "hir/zie"'as self-identifiers is studying Spanish/visiting a Spanish-speaking country (Spanish has no neuter pronouns, not even for inanimate objects), what does this individual do (and require the surrounding Spanish-speakers people to do)?

    In a school/college/work setting, for example, how do the users of nontraditional English pronoun-sets deal with language classes in Spanish/with jobs where the employee needs to use Spanish, and so on? Do they get to flunk the Spanish teacher ("This language is triggering; give me an A+") and shame/denounce their Hispanic friends and co-workers?

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