Editor’s note: In this view of the future, students discuss self-censorship. Next week, we’ll ask ourselves, “As gas prices rise and electricity prices soar, should we turn to nuclear power? Is nuclear fission green? Students must click here to submit opinions of less than 250 words by March 22. The best answers will be posted that evening.
Too many college classes promote ideological groupthink rather than the free exchange of ideas. It’s unfortunate that many students are afraid to share their opinions because they’re afraid their peers will pick on them. Yet it’s also a fairly normal part of teen and young adult life: the desire for validation and the need to fit in among peers. There are extremely vocal and intolerant student factions, but the truth is that many students are content to keep politics out of their social lives.
What is more problematic is the open politics of university administrators and some professors. Responsible adults should challenge their students to confront different ideas. Instead, many administrators attempt to comfort and shield students from exposure to differing viewpoints. This hinders the student’s critical thinking. Ironically, it also makes students less inclusive and empathetic. They become certain that what they believe must be true, since that is what responsible adults tell them. Anyone who thinks differently must be crazy.
The end result is that students who aren’t so progressive censor themselves, and not necessarily out of fear. On the contrary, students realize that it would simply be futile to speak out in an institution that actively opposes their views as if it were an indisputable fact.
—Thomas Wolfson, University of Maryland, History and Economics
Unique identities depend on mold fit
I am a freshman at the University of Chicago, a second school in the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s ranking of campuses for the best protection of free speech. The school is so committed to freedom of expression that the Special Collections Research Center organizes a permanent exhibition on censorship.
Yet even here, in one of the less hostile environments, I have to pause and consider very carefully what I am sharing with others. It’s not that I don’t believe in my ideas or in their free exchange. I am able to both challenge others and be challenged.
But college education is now less about ideas than about identities. Offering an idea that counters the narrative of identity invites a throwback designed to shame, not educate. That’s not to say that identity isn’t important or doesn’t demand respect. I know this as a Latin student.
Our college system is based on the radical idea that people don’t have to fit into certain molds to be included or succeed. If today’s campus culture stifles this idea, we will not see greater inclusion in higher education, corporate authority, and government. Any freedom to be whoever you want finds its origin in the freedom to say what you think, the freedom of conscience. Without it, there really isn’t any real identity protection.
—Teddy Torres, University of Chicago, undecided
Disagreement is not censorship
Thoughtful and respectful speech is the foundation of higher education. Students are expected to grapple with texts and debate the merits of arguments, even when they disagree with each other. Despite this, many students say they feel growing censorship in the classroom.
What these students may experience, however, is the opposite: exercising their classmates’ freedom of expression. If I raise a controversial point in a discussion, it is the obligation of my fellow students to discuss it respectfully. But there is no obligation for anyone to agree with what I say or for anyone to like me for saying it. Feeling embarrassed if my words are poorly received is not censorship, since no one is stopping me from expressing that opinion. That my classmates disagree with me proves that my point was received for debate – and therefore not censored. I may not like their dissent, but it’s their right to do so, just as it’s my right to introduce a controversial point of view.
If I choose not to voice my opinion anymore for fear of backlash, that’s my choice, not censorship. I can’t complain about a perceived lack of debate in class if I’m the one refusing to commit. I also can’t expect my classmates not to argue with me, because then they would be self-censoring.
—Carolyn Breckel, Yale University, Molecular Biophysics (Ph.D.)
I keep it for myself
Anyone with differing opinions on cultural issues such as abortion, Covid, or Israel knows that self-censorship is rampant on campuses. A friend of mine got a low grade for an essay on systemic racism in which he raised questions about the lack of strong male role models and education. When he wrote the following essay with a liberal perspective and quotes from liberal media sources, he received a one-letter top grade.
I faced a lot of criticism and backlash from my peers and faculty for being a black student with center-right views. I’ve been shouted at by peers on campus for standing up for capitalism and suggesting that high abortion rates hurt the black community. I’ve been called Uncle Tom for questioning the effectiveness of Black Lives Matter tactics. My professors often assume that because of my ethnicity, I must have leftist views on racial issues and have asked for my opinion on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
I often catch myself keeping silent and nodding my head to avoid conflict with the people around me. In fact, I like a lot of these people, and to avoid losing my friendship and relationships, I keep my true opinions to myself.
—Corey Walker, University of Michigan, History
Self-censorship is unfortunately necessary
As an undergraduate student at a university in California, I experienced academic censorship. Almost every class I’ve taken has been tainted with liberal talking points from leftist professors who aren’t afraid to share their radical beliefs. When completing my homework, I pretend to be a liberal for fear of receiving negative feedback and a low grade.
It even became a game for me. I can type my liberal answers on a superficial level because they don’t require any critical thinking skills anyway. All I have to do is include the word “racism” and the mission is good to go.
Being in such an enlightened school also resulted in self-censorship of my opinions, even with my closest friends. That I have conservative values would get me canceled by my peers. I’m passionate about my conservative beliefs but I don’t want to lose the friends I love because of them. Although censoring my opinions has often made me feel like I’m not being true to myself, I unfortunately think it’s necessary.
—Allie Simon, University of California San Diego, Psychology
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