Universities Deny Diversity of Thought

Shehryar Haris, JHU ‘20:

“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.”

These are the words the founding fathers chose to, above all else, ensure self-rule. In light of recent events at University of Berkeley, we must maintain free speech on college campuses as a paramount goal for administrations to strive towards. Universities across the country are shifting towards a sphere of radical progressivism and ostracizing those who think differently from the way administrations would like. At many of these institutions, diversity is heralded as a hallmark of proper morality; it is something that needs to be cherished and protected, unless, of course the diversity is of thought.

Yes, there are repugnant points of view. Nazism, white supremacy, and other racist ideologies must be rejected. However, the answer to a Nazi’s speech must not be met with physical violence; words cannot hurt people. We must once again open dialogue, even with the most vile viewpoints of society, to break them down with sound arguments and logic. The marketplace of ideas must be allowed to freely function if we are to glean from it the best propositions.  That said, universities are perhaps the best avenues to raise and discuss controversial issues and ideas.

Throughout history, universities have been institutions where intellectual discourse between polarizing ideas has been allowed to flourish. Universities produce the leaders of tomorrow: intellectuals, politicians, businessmen. They also produce a significant portion of the voting bloc, and a portion of Americans is ever growing.[1] What is problematic is that the discourse within universities has become increasingly homogenous. Guest speakers will often push a left-leaning narrative on social, cultural and political issues. Administrations will require students to attend diversity talks and read left-leaning texts. What is worrisome is that college students are now opposed to the tenets of freedom of speech that govern the constitution.

The Brookings Institution recently conducted a study of 1,500 undergraduates, asking the students about the hypothetical scenario of a public university inviting “a controversial speaker to an on-campus event,” who is known for making “hurtful statements.” When asked whether a student disrupting the event by “repeatedly loudly shouting so that the audience cannot hear the speaker” was deemed justified, 51%[2] of the responders deemed it an appropriate response. What is interesting is that shouting down a speaker seems to be a more appropriate response than refuting the speaker’s points, ideally outwitting them with logic and reason, or simply just ignoring them. This new wave of campus culture has not only produced a generation of people who are unwilling to engage intellectually with what they deem vile, but also a generation that has lost common courtesy.

There is nothing wrong with colleges and universities inviting leftist speakers. We have established that any voice should have access to platforms, where they can express a point of view. What is problematic is that the narrative of social justice is the only narrative that is given a platform with little to no opposition. This essentially creates an ideological echo chamber on campus of “atomized individuals.”[3] People become uncomfortable hearing opposing points of view, to the point of creating violence and disturbing the peace. This was prevalent on Berkeley’s campus last year, where the mere presence of the flamboyantly gay conservative provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos, was enough to incite riots. This past week, Berkeley had to ramp up security to an unprecedented level to brace for Ben Shapiro’s speech on campus.

Just let that sink in. The presence of a controversial speaker on campus should not necessitate a security detail the size of Mr. Shapiro’s; the constitution protects that right. At the same time, we can glean some positives from this event. Shapiro himself has said that the event ran smoothly and the security did its job.[4] Although Berkeley’s free speech week was a step in the right direction, its intentions could be taken further. Speakers should not have to fear for their safety when speaking on a college campus.

Furthermore, college students should not have to feel threatened by words they don’t like. After all, no one is forcing students to attend these events. What is concerning is that college students have adopted the dangerous mentality that speech can be pernicious. One may disagree with a speaker’s point of view, but to claim that mere words can create harm sends us down a slippery slope. Who is to govern what is hurtful and what is not? Speech is not violence. By attacking one’s politics, you are simply attacking an idea, an abstract notion. This is intrinsically different from attacking someone personally. Thus, there is not much sense in de-platforming a speaker, simply because a speaker may offend some people. If you are offended, the easiest thing to do is turn away. Do not listen to what they have to say. What is better and more productive is if we challenge the ideas of others, and understand why they have arrived at a conclusion which one may deem offensive.

Violence is never the answer to speech; and “might can’t make right.”  If universities want to create an atmosphere of diversity, they must not indict diversity of thought. By creating an ideological echo chamber, all we do is kill politics and debate. As the notable saying goes, “if everyone is thinking alike, no one is thinking.” We need to challenge ideas, no matter what they are, irrespective of the speaker’s identity. Administrations across the nation can learn a lot from Berkeley’s Free Speech Week, even if student groups managed to prematurely cancel events. Daring, offensive, and flamboyant voices need to be heard. One does not necessarily need to agree with what they’re saying, but in order to propagate the values of critical thinking and intellectual curiosity, we must reinstate freedom of speech and the diversity of ideas as a fundamental value.  Committing acts of violence against these conservative speakers only validates their views[5]. If allowed on campus–rest assured–they’ll leave soon enough.
















[1] In fall 2017, some 20.4 million students are expected to attend American colleges and universities, constituting an increase of about 5.1 million since fall 2000 — “The NCES Fast Facts Tool provides quick answers to many education questions (National Center for Education Statistics).” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372. Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

[2] Villasenor, John. “Views among college students regarding the First Amendment: Results from a new survey.” Brookings, Brookings, 20 Sept. 2017, http://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2017/09/18/views-among-college-students-regarding-the-first-amendment-results-from-a-new-survey/. Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

[3] College Students vs. Free Speech

Ben Shapiro – http://www.nationalreview.com/article/451533/free-speech-first-amendment-are-under-attack

[4] Shapiro, Ben. “5 Things I Learned At Berkeley Last Night.” Daily Wire, The Daily Wire, 15 Sept. 2017, http://www.dailywire.com/news/21115/5-things-i-learned-berkeley-last-night-ben-shapiro. Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

[5] Rampell, Catherine. “Opinion | A chilling study shows how hostile college students are toward free speech.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 Sept. 2017, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-chilling-study-shows-how-hostile-college-students-are-toward-free-speech/2017/09/18/cbb1a234-9ca8-11e7-9083-fbfddf6804c2_story.html?utm_term=.da8d10e21c40. Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.




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