College Speech Codes Stifle Free Thought

April 14, 2015

By Heather Yakin at Times Herald- Record

Free speech is something I took for granted when I went away to college.

I mean, I didn’t spend my times running rampant to spew stupid, hateful stuff just because the college had a laissez-faire speech policy, but students felt comfortable expressing their opinions.

Now, the college trend seems to be heading toward repressing speech, on the basis that stupid, offhand comments are microaggressions that hurt others.

All sorts of people say stupid or racist or sexist or ableist (negative toward disabilities), or a whole range of other “ists” all the time.

Some of them mean it; some of them are just unaware.

Instead of encouraging students to discuss it, Ithaca College’s student government has recommended creating an online system to report microaggressions (statements by someone from a privileged group that belittle or denigrate a person of a nonprivileged group based on race, ethnic origin, gender, etc.).

Ithaca College isn’t the only school going this way, just the one in the news this week, as reported by WRVO Public Media and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Instead of creating a culture of reason and learning, these colleges are creating a culture that squelches speech.

That might seem great to the people currently pushing this agenda (who seem to consider themselves progressives), but such speech codes can be turned on them tomorrow.

And will be.

Back in the days of yore when I first went away to college in Chicago, there were many late-night discussions in the lounge, some serious and some not, and some just flat-out profane.

And there was a broad range of opinion, spanning quite far across the political spectrum.

We had good-old-boy football players and the offspring of college professors (one had parents who were actual Socialists).

There were public-school scholarship kids, like me, and the children of diplomats and industry executives.

There was friction and disagreement, and sometimes someone took offense.

We took those arguments as part of the college experience, even if the lesson was just that some people are clueless or heartless or ignorant despite the advantages to which they were born.

Can it be intimidating to speak up when someone has said something inappropriate or offensive? Sure.

But speaking up – using more speech to counter offensive speech when you can – is how you get your point across.

You might learn that the other person misspoke or just didn’t realize the import of their words.

You might learn that the other person is just a jerk you should avoid in the future.

You might learn something new.

The marketplace of ideas can be a rough-and-tumble place.

Someone might offend you – and you might offend others.

But free expression and free speech are key to free thought, which is the cornerstone of a free society.

Silencing dissent will always come back to bite us.