The First Amendment protects everyone by granting them with the freedom to express themselves through religion, speech, the press and assembly.
Student protests have been taking over college campuses across the country, notably at the University of Missouri and at Yale. Campuses have erupted in controversy regarding the mistreatment of minority students and the racial discrimination they face. Amidst the protests, the First Amendment and the freedoms with which it provides citizens has been forgotten and skewed.
The desire to combat hurtful and hateful speech clashes with principles that are valued in academic settings: freedom of speech and academic expression. Universities are struggling to find a balance between creating a welcoming environment where racial and cultural differences are accepted, but also where ideas are encouraged to be challenged and openly expressed.
The Intercultural Affairs Committee sent an email out to the undergraduate student body of Yale the week before Halloween advising students to avoid threatening circumstances that involve racial, national, religious or gender-based discrimination.
Erika Christakis, associate master of Silliman College, sent out a separate email where she voiced her opinions on cultural appropriation. In the email, she challenged the notion that some costumes should be off-limits for drawing on cultural stereotypes and argued that colleges should place where freedom of expression is protected.
Her email received a lot of backlash from students who protested against her opinions and demanded that she be fired.
College should provide students with an intellectual space where one’s opinions are allowed to be challenged. When a person’s views are challenged, they can grow intellectually. All ideas, good or bad, should be up for debate and allowed to be explored.
The students’ demand that Christakis be removed from her job is absurd. Protesters were offended by the fact that an administrator declared that freedom of expression should be protected, even when offensive, as ordained by the First Amendment, and therefore seek to punish her for exercising this right.
Yale’s freedom of expression policy states: “Yale’s commitment to freedom of expression means that when you agree to matriculate, you join a community where the ‘provocative, the disturbing and the unorthodox’ must be tolerated.”
The student protesters are guaranteed the right to criticize others, but by refusing to tolerate the opinion of an administrator they are doing a shameful disservice to their community. They are discrediting the right to freedom of expression that they rely on in order to be able to protest against issues that are important to them.
Protesters are promoters of personal rights who set the example that they wish others to follow. It is a serious issue when they are the ones calling for an administrator to be fired over a moderate opinion, let alone an extreme one. If you do not believe that freedom of expression applies to everyone, even people who disagree with your views, you do not believe in it at all.
A Pew report showed that 40 percent of millennials support government suppression of offensive speech, even though a such a practice is unconstitutional. There is a growing predilection of young people to censor ideas that they consider to be unpleasant, which creates a danger for the future of free speech.
Students across the country should be encouraged to safeguard the freedom of expression all of the time, even when the opinion being expressed is offensive.