Dear Incoming College Freshmen,
If asked to describe the attitude of today’s American college students in only one word there seems to be just one appropriate term: offended.
The college experience used to be synonymous with experimentation and open-mindedness, where young adults, free from their parents’ supervision for the first time, go to find out who they are and what they believe.
Unfortunately, over the last few decades there has been a dramatic change in the demeanor of college students. Today, many seem to be more preoccupied with taking offense to what they disagree with than they are concerned with their studies and broadening their horizons.
The culture of outrage inhabiting campuses around the country has gotten so extreme that students are asking for free speech to be limited on school grounds. What happened? College students used to be the radicals of the world, calling out the “establishment” for censorship.
For example, when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, there was a large movement dedicated to speaking out against the war. As a result, a crackdown on free speech began. “Free speech” zones were installed on college campuses where individuals were permitted to exercise their First Amendment rights, so long as they stayed confined to the designated fenced-in area where the Constitution still applied.
As to be expected, civil liberty-lovers everywhere, including many on the left, were outraged. How dare free speech be limited in public places! This was not what freedom should look like.
However, the tables have turned dramatically and now we are seeing the left calling for an abridgment to our First Amendment rights in order to spare a few tender young people from being offended on campus.
With around 324 million people living in America, there are bound to be differences of opinions. What offends one may not offend the other. If our Constitution guaranteed the right to not be offended, no one would be able to speak or communicate with each other without risk.
Colleges and universities are institutions of knowledge, without exposure to a wide variety of opinions, how can we expect young Americans to figure out who they are? A student would not be asked to read only half a novel before taking a test on its content, why should they only be exposed to certain points of view that the administration deems appropriate?
Not only are we willfully suppressing information from young impressionable college students, we are also robbing them of a valuable life lesson; functioning in a diverse world.
There have been numerous instances of students being reprimanded or campus clubs being shut down because of a few peers being offended and complaining to the administration over content they deemed offensive. For example, college gun rights groups have been targeted along with conservative groups and even free speech advocacy groups. One student club got reprimanded just for encouraging free speech on campus, to which the administration responded by saying permission was needed before students were allowed to express themselves “freely.”
The situation has gotten so ridiculous, campuses have begun offering group coping sessions for those who have been offended by something someone said on campus. Additionally, it has become normal for students to ask for extended due dates if they feel they have been emotionally traumatized by a demonstration on campus.
This epidemic of offense has got to stop. There is only one truly effective way to combat bad ideas and that is through good ideas. Free speech is a powerful tool. If you are offended or do not like what someone is saying, the beauty of free speech is that you are free to setup shop right next to them and shout your views until you are blue in the face.
Allowing yourself to be victimized by someone else’s speech is giving up way too much of your own individual power. You alone are responsible for how you react to something and how you treat others. True, there are a lot of awful people out there voicing a lot of ignorant opinions. Combat that ignorance with your own ideas. If you don’t like what is being said, use your First Amendment rights to change the conversation.
A Concerned Elder-llennial