Don't Fear Free Speech

The issue of free speech on college campuses has caused much unrest across the country recently. People have argued both sides, and the extremes of both have been exposed. The answer, however, won’t be found in a  freedom of speech vs. a controlled campus battle--it lies in our ability to find that happy medium. We must look for that point and accept free speech as the beginning of a constructive discussion or reason to fight for what we believe in.

The millennial generation is one that doesn’t want to be defined. We see our differences as arbitrary, and categorizations of human beings as limiting. We try to manipulate and control language to rid our generation of the classifications that differentiate us.

We want freedom in just about every aspect of our lives: the freedom to explore ourselves and the world around us, freedom from our parents, freedom in what we choose to pursue in our futures and freedom in what we can share with the world. Yet, in calling for limitations that will restrict some of our freedoms, we are a walking contradiction. We beg for this independence, but on the other hand, we beseech others to control us.

We are asking for administrators to control what can be said on campus, what can and can’t be taught in classrooms or to punish students who make insensitive comments. We mustn't chastise these students’ comments with disciplinary punishment, but rather use their comments as the inauguration of a discussion.

Just because you have free speech, however, does not mean that you should make offensive, racist comments. I have always been a supporter of my fellow students who are brave enough to speak out against their institution. Because I am white and by default privileged because of the color of my skin, I will never understand what my classmates of color are experiencing, but I can support them in their fight against institutional racism.

I can witness the discrimination and racism that they face, but I can never truly know what they are going through. I will never understand what it is like to be judged by the color of my skin. I have faced forms of discrimination as a female, and while this oppression does not match the oppression of racism, it is still a hurtful experience.

I absolutely one hundred percent agree that we must work to eliminate racism in this world. We must work to eradicate all types of discrimination and see people for who they are on the inside rather than their outward appearance. We should be working to diversify schools and administrations in all aspects, but we should not be imposing rules and regulations upon student bodies to impede upon their right to free speech.

It is not the rules and regulations that are going to do the job, it may help with our goals in the short term, but it will not get us where we need to be as a society. Making more rules isn’t going to change the way that people think. That is the real problem here. And while rules may condition us to start changing our thinking through a repetition of a certain behavior, the most enduring change has to be born in our own willable actions.

The problem with society is the way that we view each other. It’s our inability to see past someone’s appearance and our tendency to make snap judgments based on the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, their piercings or tattoos, their religion, etc. In order to spark any real change, we must challenge and change the ideologies and the cultural conditions of our society as a whole and ourselves as individuals.

We must look at this on a social rather than a regulatory level. No change is going to come from imposing laws. It is going to come from opening our minds and having discussions that challenge us and force us to think. This kind of change must happen on a cultural level. Social movements and protests are good and will help us move in the right direction, but we cannot stifle or repress the opposition just because their values are not right or do not align with ours. These conflicting beliefs must be acknowledged and refuted so ideas can be discussed and our society can come to rational conclusions and societal change through civilized debates.

I am someone that gets offended when people use language that is offensive, and I use it to judge one’s personal character. When I have witnessed these comments, I have spoken up and spoken against these people, and tried to explain to them that what they have said is wrong and offensive.

Regardless if they understand and acknowledge what I have said or not, I have created some dialogue that brings up the inappropriateness of their comments. I believe that is a form of minor cultural change.

We can make all the rules we want, but the bottom line is rules do get broken. People are going to be a lot less inclined to say something if they fear a lack of cultural acceptance rather than a slap on the wrist from their university.

University policies are broken all the time and I don’t think that their presence necessarily changes students’ behavior. We tend to just break them in secret. That is why we must look at our cultural norms and what we deem acceptable in social situations to begin to hold people accountable for their words and actions.

When someone presents a view that challenges mine, it doesn’t belittle or invalidate my opinion completely, although it’s a little frustrating for obvious reasons. But what that differing opinion does is challenge me to think about why I believe in and support what I do and it allows me to either question or strengthen my beliefs. It makes me think. It makes me ask why I believe in something. It forces me to understand what I value and prioritize. It forces me to see things from a different perspective.

Just because someone says something we don’t like doesn't mean that it shouldn't be said--however, racist comments absolutely should not and cannot be said or tolerated. The ability to encounter discomfort and critically examine beliefs and feelings is what makes this world and our human capabilities so wonderful.

I came to Boston College to be challenged and questioned, to fight for what I believe in and be a little uncomfortable. College should do that to us. It should challenge us and make us uncomfortable, while making sure we are never unsafe or threatened.

We should have to fight for things we believe, prove ourselves and answer the question ‘why?’ Once we are in the real world, there is no one protecting us. If someone says something offensive, then it’s up to us to handle the situation on our own.

We must accept these challenges to our beliefs while realizing that we cannot control through punishment what others say and think. Those words will come back to haunt them, not in an institutional setting, but rather in a social setting. A lack of social acceptance is much worse than any university repercussion.

The key here is that we all must to be open to constructive dialogue. We cannot be closed minded individuals that denounce every view or opinion that doesn’t support our agenda. We must acknowledge that we will not always get along, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make our college campuses accepting, free and sometimes uncomfortable.

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