by Rachel Ochoa
What is freedom? Is freedom the absence of captivity, or is it rather the stage upon which man possesses free reign to formulate and express his thoughts? Freedom is not a slumbering and abstract idea, but a vivid force that incites men to action and inspires them to achieve greatness. Our forefathers understood that the foundation of freedom lies in the mind and in man’s ability to think according to his own will. With this understanding, they wrote the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, which states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
This amendment was written for a people who knew all too well the precious cost of existing without the freedom of speech and press; a people who had risked their very lives in order to preserve that right. These people fought for a freedom that had, in the words of Thomas Paine, "…been hunted round the globe."
Today college students on American campuses are engaged in the very same battle. A young man that protested the construction of a parking deck was expelled without due process; a custodial worker and part-time student was fired for harassing his co-workers by silently reading a book; a young woman was required to compromise her own morals in order to fulfill politically-biased classroom assignments – these scenarios are not unique, and they are not rare. Walk the corridors of universities today and you will assuredly find a struggle between political correctness and the right to open, educated debate. Needless to say, political correctness is winning.
It is crucial to understand that implications that become reality when the rights stated within the First Amendment are infringed upon are arguably of even greater importance than the amendment itself. The right to free press necessitates a right to free speech, which in turn necessitates a right to free thought. When a government attempts to remove the right of free speech from the people, it inhibits that people’s ability to think openly and independently and utterly betrays the concept of freedom upon which America was founded.
One can apply this same concept to a university, which as an established institution has a responsibility to its faculty and students to maintain the rights stated within the First Amendment. This responsibility is of special importance because of a university’s intended purpose. By definition, a university must provide an environment conducive to personal and academic growth, fueled by diversity of experience. In order to fulfill its fundamental purpose, therefore, a university must at all times promote open and instructive debate without inhibiting either thought or speech.
A surprising number of long-established universities today have betrayed not only their fundamental purpose, but also First Amendment rights in an effort to become "culture sensitive." Rather than celebrating diversity, some universities have preferred to create tension between those of different racial and moral backgrounds by highlighting those differences in a public arena. Take, for example, the outrageous situation that occurred on the University of Delaware’s campus, as recorded in a video documentary about three students who were victims of this heinous indoctrination at their freshman orientation.
A group of freshmen was instructed to stand around a large bowl of marshmallows while a number of statements were read off of small slips of paper. In order to complete the exercise, students were told to put one marshmallow in their mouth for every statement that applied to them. When all the statements were read, the students were to turn and attempt to speak to one another with the marshmallows in their mouths. Due to the nature of the statements on the slips of paper, students who were members of minority groups or were homosexual had a great many marshmallows in their mouths, while white male students had none. When they turned to speak to one another, minority and homosexual students were unable to speak for the great number of marshmallows in their mouths, and white male students were completely unencumbered. The exercise ultimately and undeniably made the white male appear to be oppressive and perpetually racist, successfully fulfilling its purpose.
Through a frightening example of university life in America, the gravity of the situation described by three students attending the University of Delaware becomes far greater upon an examination of the University of Delaware’s Mission Statement. In the opening sentence this university claims to strive to "…cultivate both learning and the free exchange of ideas" in order to provide an excellent education for its students. Of course, this "free exchange" occurs under an umbrella of political correctness that ensures that each student is inundated, though equally so, with the political and moral views of the university itself. What is more, this flooding of ideas overwhelms the students upon their arrival at the campus and is one of the very first activities in which they are required to participate. From the very beginning of a freshman’s college experience, this university suffocated the free exchange of ideas.
The event at the University of Delaware is one of many similar cases in which students were deprived of their most basic right to speak and ultimately to think freely. Consider another example that occurred at Valdosta State University. At this university, a student attempted to peaceably protest the building of a parking deck near campus, by posting a humorous collage on his Facebook site. As a result of this, the student was expelled from Valdosta State without any prior notice and forced to vacate his campus residence; an undeniably absurd reaction to a harmless protest.
Under systems such as those that were in operation at the University of Delaware and Valdosta State, these students would have graduated with a mindset that was created for them after a set pattern rather than cultivated through personal experience and the free exchange of ideas. As Americans and as human beings, we must stand up, acknowledge our rights and defend them at any cost. College students are the future thinkers of our country, and if our future thinkers are all programmed to think identically, we have stunted our own progress as a nation. Let us not forfeit what our forefathers fought so long to preserve; let us instead remember that the very essence of our freedom begins with the recognition that our minds are our own, and let us take action against any who would deprive us of our rights.