Free speech should be allowed on college campuses

By Matt Silich, Columnist

Ithe midst of a nationwide discussion about the boundaries of political correctness, the University of California, Berkeley has evolved into a fiery center of aggressive, even violent political debate.

The conflicts began in earnest at Berkeley in early February, when former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was forced to cancel a planned lecture because of violent protests by liberal students and other liberal activists on campus. Berkeley was back in the news again April 15, when violence erupted due to political differences, resulting in 20 arrests by local police. Those two preceding events set the stage for the Wednesday cancellation of conservative author Ann Coulter’s planned speech on the campus. Coulter and many other conservatives have rallied against liberals at large in the days since, claiming that Democrats are suppressing the free speech of conservatives.

And Coulter is right, as much as it pains me to say it, given her history of absurd, bigoted commentary.

The conflict resulting from these speeches is not solely the fault of liberal students. Republican groups on campus have clearly intended to provoke some campus conflict given their choices of speakers (as conservative as it gets) and venues (wide open public spaces). Some level of situational awareness should be expected.

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But those Republican students shouldn’t have to plan in fear of violence; they should merely be planning for peaceful protests and civil disagreements from the majority of the student body. Violent action is wrong in nearly any scenario, even when the opposition’s rhetoric is hate-filled. As long as a message is delivered peacefully, it should be received peacefully. “To me, it’s a sign of intellectual weakness, said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to the Huffington Post. “If you can’t ask Ann Coulter in a polite way questions which expose the weakness of her arguments, if all you can do is boo, or shut her down, or prevent her from coming, what does that tell the world?”

Sanders is right. Liberal students should actively challenge the bigoted views of conservatives such as Yiannopoulos and Coulter instead of suppressing them. Making a fool of those who hate so many people is much more satisfying than summarily rejecting them anyway.

Not all types of speech must be carefully considered or even listened to — Yiannopoulos resigned from Breitbart in February after a video of him condoning sexual relations with children as young as 13 years old surfaced online — but the decision not to listen shouldn’t and can’t be expressed violently.

Just as many of us choose to read exclusively liberal or conservative news outlets, we can also choose to ignore opposing viewpoints.

That may not be the healthiest course of action, and it makes for increasingly partisan politics in our country. But when the alternative is resulting in injuries for both protesters and speakers, then it’s time to back off until students learn how to stand up for their beliefs without resorting to violence against speakers like at Middlebury College or cruel jokes such as the Yale Republicans’ recent barbecue next to a hunger strike.

As frustrating as it can be to see an unwelcome speaker’s opinions promoted so close to home, college students must contain that outrage. It only furthers the political divide and emboldens the opposition to push harder.

Liberal students don’t have to feel sympathetic toward Coulter or Yiannopoulos — I certainly don’t — but freedom of speech is a founding principle that should be observed on all fronts. It’s imperative to respect the essential laws of our country, even if you don’t respect the people they protect.

“What are you afraid of — her ideas?” Sanders said. “Ask her the hard questions.”

Matt is a senior in Media.

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