A recent flood of ideological intolerance and sensitivity to controversial ideas has been threatening to soil the fields of university campuses. Students have begun protesting speeches on campuses with controversial topics and ideas that they disagree with or that they declare as offensive. Invited lecturers are denied and turned away by universities kneeling to the demands of these students. The speakers, whose determination brings them to podiums regardless of circumstance, are challenged by disruptions and sometimes threats of physical violence from protesters, as well as the most common spectacle: inarticulate chants shouted at speakers by students who fortify their resolve with a self-attached sense of righteousness.
Students argue that they protest hate speech. Their perception of differing and controversial ideas and ideologies as dangerous and hateful is predicated on a sustained cycloptic view that reduces the complexity of issues to them versus the other, and the other is always wrong and often evil. If you don’t agree, then you are the enemy.
Uproars have come with such frequency that protests seem more like a casual recreational activity—without real substance or meaning behind them. In a civilized society, if there is truly something wrong with an idea, the problem would be identified and resolved through discourse and consensus, not tongue lashed into the underworld. Dialogue must forego barbarism.
Regardless of the notoriety a public figure or speaker may have, canceling speeches is not only wrong, it would be to the detriment of intellectual diversity and health of universities. Keeping ideas, no matter how radical or subversive to any ideological principles, is harmful. If someone wants to give a speech while touting bad ideas, those bad ideas should be heard publically so they may be critiqued. Protesters are threatening to create an echo-chamber by barring ideas from flowing freely and colliding.
Initially, universities gave in to the demands of protesters, allowing students, in one case, to call for a “Day of Absence” at Evergreen College that asked all white students and faculty stay home for a day (a twist on a tradition of black students voluntarily doing the same.) When one professor objected, students amassed outside of his classroom, surrounded the professor and later demanded that he be fired for his objection. Conversely, the University of Chicago announced a commitment to academic liberty and a campus culture that does not support intellectual safe spaces. Such environments allow for sincere argumentation that promotes individual development of thought.
Historically, universities have served as battlegrounds for ideas and platforms for debate, and now more than ever, they must remain that way.
by Steven Ricaurte