On Free Speech

A disturbing trend on campus was recently revealed nationally: students don’t know what free speech means. It seems that one’s right to free speech has ended where another’s feelings begin. Of course, when we speak of principles, subjective things like feelings should have no sway for objective standards. As George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” But on our campus, that may well be all that the First Amendment is good for anymore.

We at the Review pride ourselves on our history of unwavering and principled commitment to free speech. Often the best way to ensure that others feel comfortable speaking their minds is to push the boundaries of what we ourselves are comfortable saying and especially, hearing. Earlier this year, a professor complained about an “inappropriate” cartoon we made. In December, Omar Mahmood was suspended from the Daily for creating a “hostile environment” with harmless satire. His apartment door was then vandalized.

A couple weeks go, Samantha Audia’s story blew the lid on the Inclusive Language Campaign, meant to educate students that “words matter”—this story went viral. Conservative comedian and talk show host Steven Crowder then did a video talking to students on campus. What did he find? Students don’t know what free speech is.

“Free speech as long as it doesn’t like harm another individual,” one student opined. The problem is that in a campus environment where victim status is dangerously empowering, “harm” becomes subjective and therefore distilled of its proper meaning. Students thus think they have a right to not be offended. What is offensive is uprooted from personal contexts and made the standard for all.

“I think it makes sense to create an environment where like people don’t feel threatened…it could hit like a sensitive spot with someone,” another student said in Crowder’s video. These soft spots are especially vulnerable to what students, professors, and administrators call “microaggressions.”

Although the ILC isn’t strictly restricting free speech, the initiative creates a culture of silence for fear that what one might say may be considered offensive. Since what is offensive gets defined by a subjective standard, its proper context is on an individual basis. But the ILC makes offensive language an objective standard for any and all circumstance and contains no self-limiting principle: anything can be considered offensive. It becomes a power grab by  scaring students away from using any abstractly offensive language. In telling them what not to say and thus not to think, it de facto tells them what to think. It suppresses dissenting speech by closing ranks, with help of University administrators. The principles of PC-Speak enforces the herd from anyone sheep thinking a ‘baaad’ thought.

There is mandatory sensitivity training for freshman living in dorms. As one student attending these seminars reported, saying ‘merry Christmas’ to someone not a Christian is now offensive. This culture of silence has become ‘insane’ and ‘crazy’ when such daily and normal words are deemed by the ILC to be baad.

“Your right to freedom of speech is rarely taken away by the sword but under the guise of ‘a better country for all of us’ and what these students even when given a lifeline,” explains Steven Crowder. “We are teaching young people that being offended is an ideological priority. Indeed, the coin of the campus realm today is victimhood, grievance, and offense.”

Jonah Goldberg was hosted recently on campus by our Young Americans for Freedom chapter. He spoke to Hunter Swogger following his speech at Rackham, which defended and elucidated conservative values and argued that fascism is a phenomenon of the left as an experiment in statism. According to Goldberg, it is in the past two years that the ultra-PC culture on campus has taken over.

The same figure of two years was corroborated by the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Greg Lukianoff. He told Omar Mahmood on the set of John Stossel that PC culture was more vitriolic back in the 70’s and 80’s. “But there’s been something in the water these past two years on our college campuses,” he said

Ann Arbor’s gotten drunk enough on that water this past year especially. But no one has the right to not be offended, especially at a university. Persons have a right to be respected, but effective standards of respect develop gradually through social consequences of voluntary disassociation — not university policy. And that means that the Review has stepped up to the battlefront. We will fight for intellectual diversity and an environment of open inquiry: our stance against this culture of censorship will be firm and unblinking. We look forward to sharing our fight with you. Join this army of student free speech radicals. We shall carry on.

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