Trend of students refusing to listen to divergent opinions continues


Women gather in protest against pseudoscience author Charles Murray at Middlebury College

Evidently, the cost of free speech has been raised to $100,000. At least University of California, Berkeley (UCB) students thought so when they caused that amount in damage protesting conservative former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos’ invitation to speak on their campus.

This costly riot was followed a month later by a demonstration at Middlebury College in Vermont protesting guest speaker Charles Murray, author of the controversial book The Bell Curve. The protest left Professor Allison Stanger with a concussion according to an article in the New York Times.

However, this trend isn’t just worrisome because of the physical damage that’s been done, it’s also leaving students with a missed opportunity to challenge and refute views that so many rightfully find offensive. Nothing but human nature is to blame for the knee jerk reaction of wanting to block out opinions that you don’t agree with but we need to demand more from our college students.

Even more so now, the open communication of opposing ideas is imperative since we are under an administration that values only one narrow view of the world.

Had Middlebury students decided to participate in the Q & A with Murray, had they decided to ask hard hitting questions that Murray’s pseudoscience couldn’t answer, maybe the headline the next day would’ve read Middlebury Students Stump Scholar from American Enterprise Institute. Instead, the New York Times ran an editorial titled Smothering Speech at Middlebury.

This type of reaction from bright, driven students is exactly what right-wing conservatives want. It vilifies liberals and paints people like Yiannopoulos as a victim when in reality, he’s an Islamophobic misogynist. It lets “Forbes on Fox” panelists say that they are “heartened to see President Trump standing up for free speech” and be right.

While it is difficult to stand by while your university hosts, and essentially validates, someone who espouses pseudoscience to back up views that are fundamentally different from your own and may even threaten your basic human rights, democracy does not exist without the free exchange of oppositional opinions.

The liberal arts education that students at Middlebury pay over $60,000 for annually, emphasizes that their students graduate as “thoughtful and ethical leaders able to meet the challenges of informed citizenship” according to their website. In a country where conservatives are the dominant ideological group at 38% of the population according to a Gallup poll, listening to people’s views, especially when they are different from yours, is the only way to be truly “informed”.

A fact that doesn’t help is that both UCB and Middlebury both have student bodies with median incomes that are far above the average according to the Brookings Institution. What privileged students must realize is that it is no privilege to hear only palatable opinions.

Restricting free speech, especially the free speech of a notable speaker at an esteemed institution, is self-defeating. No great strides in acceptance or education have ever been made by smothering voices and, as badly as every side of any argument ever may want, that tactic is not getting any more effective.