Protests

Why Student Activists Need Free Speech: What to learn from Mizzou and Yale

Student attacks on the First Amendment are misguided and counterproductive.

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What started as protests over offensive Halloween costumes and racial insensitivity at Yale and the University of Missouri has spread to campuses—with thousands of student-protesters across the country demanding an end to what they see as systematic racism on campus.

At the University of Missouri, a student's hunger strike over racism, and an unprecedented football team boycott of future games, led to President Tim Wolfe's resignation. Protesters have succeeded in ousting administrators at other campuses. These developments prove that student activists have plenty of institutional power, and we ought to support their right to flex their muscles and advocate for the changes they want.

Unfortunately, a lot of these student activists have the First Amendment in their crosshairs. At Amherst, students demanded the censorship of pro-free speech fliers. At Yale, students demanded the firing of officials who reaffirmed the right to wear offensive Halloween costumes. And at both Missouri and the University of Chicago, demonstrators physically prevented members of the media from talking to activist students. At Missouri, one of these censors was a professor—of journalism.

Student activists say they want their campuses to become safe spaces. But they are conflating two very different kinds of safety. Of course students have the right to physical safety—universities are required prevent violence and illegal harassment on campuses. But too many students think they are also entitled to emotional safety.

Free speech isn't an obstacle that prevents radical activists from getting what they want, it's a necessary condition for them to promote their ideas. Students should fight racism and inequality on college campuses. And they'll actually need free speech to do that.

Approximately 1.40 minutes.

Produced by Joshua Swain. Written by Robby Soave.

Music by Podington Bear.

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