As the summer comes to a close, college students from all around the country will be headed back to their campuses to start a new semester. Over the academic year, they will fill their minds with knowledge, meet lifelong friends, and learn how to be offended as much as is humanly possible.
Though college students used to be zealous defenders of First Amendment rights, calls to limit free speech on campuses in order to avoid hurt feelings has become increasingly common over the last several years. However, in preparation for the new semester, the University of Chicago has made it very clear to its student body that it refuses to cave to the whims of these emotionally fragile Millennials.
In a letter addressed to the incoming class of 2020, the Dean of Students, John Ellison, tells the new students exactly what kind of emotional protection against free speech that they can expect to receive from the administration: none.
Laying out the administration’s opinion on the issue of trigger warnings and safe spaces, Ellison told the incoming freshmen, “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”
Unlike many other institutions of higher education, the University of Chicago has committed itself to protecting First Amendment rights on campus, a concept that has become widely unpopular recently. In fact, the administrations themselves have become a huge part of this problem. Some have even gone as far as to ban or take legal action against clubs whose speech has offended, or could potentially offend other students.
For Ellison to be so blunt with his incoming students is not only a breath of fresh air, but it also sets a standard to which all public colleges and universities should be held. In order for our First Amendment rights to be protected on college campuses, administrative support of free speech is absolutely necessary. By capitulating to those who find someone’s speech, “traumatizing,” we are teaching students that they have a right to not be offended, something that would be impossible to guarantee in a free society.
College is a very brief period of time between adolescence and living in the real world. By sheltering these students from a wide variety of opinions and viewpoints, we are doing them a great disservice in not preparing them for the real world, where differing opinions exist all around us.
Free speech does not protect Americans from offense, but it does guarantee that you will be given an equal opportunity to voice your own opinion freely.
As Ellison says in his letter, “Fostering the free exchange of ideas reinforces a related University priority… Diversity of opinion and background is a fundamental strength of our community.”