In the current political climate of the United States, the free exchange of ideas on college campuses are constantly under threat. With the rise of the progressive left, it has become increasingly difficult to disagree without being ostracized. Particularly in universities where the social justice left is the majority, which includes most of the universities that are considered the best in the country, going against the established narrative can be dangerous in more ways than one. In a tribalist environment of left vs. right, there are fewer and fewer people who are even willing to listen to each other. Freedom of thought on college campuses needs to be protected.
An example of this in action right here in UA would be the aftermath of recent controversy regarding the SGA elections on campus. The Alabama Young Americans for Freedom chapter was denounced by The Crimson White’s Editorial Board as “an institution of bigotry and extremism.” Similarly, the Alabama International Relations Club, in their statement withdrawing their endorsement of a candidate with previous YAF association, claimed that the “diverse backgrounds and ideologies” of the organization “do not align with YAF.”
However, the simple truth is that YAF is merely a conservative organization for college students. While the organization and its members do clash with the left on multiple issues, calling the organization a “hate group” and all those involved “bigots” certainly seems like a stretch. The political opinions YAF and its members espouse are not rooted in hate; they are rooted in statistics, history, a desire to restore political and cultural stability, and in many cases, religious conviction.
This merely scratches the surface of the animosity shown by many on campus towards YAF. In a group chat closely related to a left-leaning organization on campus, one member commented that, “those people simply do not deserve the light of day”, while referring to YAF. Other members claimed that “these people” were in an “echo chamber” and that their beliefs would spread if “we don’t try to interfere.” They suggested that Shield’s failure to “speak out against their beliefs” made her “complicit” in YAF’s so-called bigotry.
Cases such as this are not unique to the University of Alabama. In many other universities, such intolerant and closed-minded environments are much worse. For example, the Federalist Society at Yale Law School recently held a panel between Kristen Waggoner, a conservative US Supreme Court Litigator with the Alliance Defending Freedom, and Monica Miller of the left-wing American Humanist Association. Waggoner has argued many cases in favor of first amendment protections, including the well-known Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which she represented a Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.
The panel was supposed to be a civil conversation to attempt to find common ground between a progressive and a conservative. However, over 100 law students showed up to verbally harass, drown out, and threaten the conservative speaker. Both speakers had to be escorted out of the building for their own protection. According to the New York Post, the moderator of the event received an open letter from the students condemning her for giving “a platform to ideas that deny [their] full personhood.”
This is not the way that it should be. College is a place where opposing viewpoints should be discussed in a civil manner, and where everyone has a right to express what they believe without fear of ostracization, slander, or GPA hits. College students especially should be encouraged to hear differing beliefs and to listen to both sides of every story before jumping to conclusions about a topic. Logic and critical thinking should be not only taught but utilized as the driving forces behind academic thought.
Not only is this necessary to become a well-rounded individual, but it is necessary to have a functioning democratic society. It is in the universities where the future leaders and professionals are getting their start. If students aren’t being exposed to opposing ideas and aren’t learning vital critical thinking skills now, what does that say about the survival of Western democracy tomorrow, which relies on these values?
On April 18, Sen. Ted Cruz and pundit Michael Knowles came to campus for their “Verdict: Live with Ted Cruz” podcast taping. During the question period of the event, a self-proclaimed left-leaning student asked the speakers how to get other members of the left to see and hear conservative viewpoints instead of relying on simple stereotypes. Sen. Cruz responded by saying, “it is important, I think, to listen not just to those who you agree with, but to those you disagree with. In many ways, I think you can learn more by listening to opposing views rather than those who are just reinforcing what you already think.”
Of course, this is an incredibly hard thing for people to do all along the political spectrum, and particularly if they feel strongly about a certain viewpoint. Even so, perhaps one of the main differences between those solidly on the left and those on the right now is that the left is much more resistant to hearing opposing viewpoints and tends to use censorship more than pro-free speech right-wingers. As Sen. Cruz admitted, there is no easy answer to the question of how to effectively encourage people, especially on the left, to hear opposing viewpoints. However, Sen. Cruz is completely correct regarding his comments about the importance of hearing opposing voices.
It was Socrates who said, “it is better to change an opinion than to persist in a wrong one.” How does anyone know what the truth is if they persist in one set opinion without hearing anything else? Even if somebody is convinced that their opinion is the correct one, they should welcome hearing other viewpoints and debating with the other side. This is, after all, the only way to find objective truth. The best way to discover and share truths is through conversations with one another.
Conservatives in the public square have to stand up for free speech. Speech is not violence–it is our best avenue to prevent violence. Speech isn’t ignorance, either–it is the way to cure ignorance. Most of all, speech isn’t just important–it is the foremost tool we have to defend our liberty. May we all use it wisely.