A Reflection Upon Young Conservatives and the Freedom of Speech
A few weeks ago, my student representatives voted on a resolution that, if passed, would demonstrate student support for disbanding a conservative student organization over a controversial demonstration.
Three weeks ago, this conservative group held a deeply controversial affirmative action bake sale that made national headlines. Intended as an analogy for the race-based admissions policy, the organization's bake sale charged Asian males the most and Native American females the least. The bake sale quickly caused uproar among the student body.
The resolution - despite having failed to pass - is troubling and indicative of a greater trend toward restricting free speech on college campuses. Upon hearing about the resolution, my first reaction was one of unpleasant surprise. Considering that the organization failed to meet the criteria for verbal harassment, demanding that they be disbanded wanders dangerously near a violation of free speech rights.
As I sat in during the student government’s meeting and listened to the proponents' arguments, I was left to wonder: is this type of reaction to an opposing viewpoint acceptable? Moves toward restricting certain forms of speech on college campuses have certainly become more common - for instance, last year student organization leaders at James Madison University were given a seven-page speech guide containing 35 discouraged phrases (many of which were fairly innocuous). A Harvard law professor says that it has become difficult to teach rape laws because students complain of discomfort, and many professors have consequently removed rape laws from their curriculum. Last year, when the University of California administration added affirmative action to a list of topics deemed to be “microaggressive,” their actions hindered free discussion of the policy.
While I understand why many may feel resentful towards an organization that expresses opposition in such a controversial manner, the proponents in this case also refused to consider a resolution that would only denounce the organization’s actions – which is far more understandable - rather than disband it entirely. They loudly declared that this resolution was “non-negotiable.”
To an outsider, the resolution appeared ominously like an attempt at retribution - by silencing a dissenting group and ensuring that they remain silent.
Unable to point out an explicitly racist line or call for violence, the proponents also seemed satisfied with simply decrying the entire organization as “racist.” Given little evidence to the contrary, I - and many others - had little choice but to believe that they were motivated almost entirely by their opposition to the organization’s point of view.
That is unacceptable, especially on a college campus – a supposed bastion for free speech.
I want to note - as an Asian-American woman, I have faced my own share of racism, and I fully empathize with anyone who has also endured racism. There is no doubt in my mind that racism still exists and must be addressed. I also acknowledge that there are valid arguments in favor of affirmative action. On the other hand, students on college campuses frequently condemn anyone who disagrees with affirmative action or other race-related policies as “racist.” That is deeply problematic.
For example, I personally oppose affirmative action – not only because it disproportionately and unfairly hurts Asian Americans by subtracting SAT points, but also because I believe that it fails to take into account crucial factors such as socioeconomic status, which alone can bring significant racial and economic diversity.
A recent Gallup poll also showed that ⅔ of Americans disagreed with the outcome of Fisher v. UT Austin. To label ⅔ of Americans as “racist” is as inaccurate as it is lazy, and it discounts many of the legitimate reasons that the opposition may voice.
Censoring groups that oppose affirmative action is even more irresponsible - not to mention unlawful. Although the resolution failed to pass, it is representative of a larger trend among universities across the country. We see the rise of similar efforts to silence groups and statements deemed “offensive.” Contrary to popular sentiment, we cannot view these efforts as black and white, right vs. wrong. These efforts raise difficult questions about the thin line between one of America’s core principles - freedom of speech – and the creation of a welcome environment for people from all marginalized groups.
As we move into the next four years braced for a deeply polarized and divided nation, we must ask ourselves: if we wish to convince those with opposing views that they should rally behind us instead, should our best argument be a demand for their silence?