Balancing free speech with students’ objections to speakers with unpopular views has become a messy task in recent years. With students, the rights of free speech can come into conflict with the need to feel safe and welcome. Although the problem has recently surfaced all across the country, the most public episode was the shouting down of the conservative, Charles Murray, at Dartmouth last year.
Four months later when Murray was to appear at the University of Michigan, the experience was very different than that at Dartmouth. The problem has a long history. My college grappled with the issue back in the 1950s. But with the polarization in our country, the issue has become more front and center.
Part of the problem is that students often come to college having never interacted with someone with a different viewpoint or different lifestyle. Today’s homogeneous residential neighborhoods limit the opportunities for diverse interactions. There are also virtual reality silos where similar views can be curated so that one’s perspectives are always affirmed and never challenged.
Of course, there’s also a bit of imitation going on. The student brain thinks that they did it at Dartmouth so we can do it here in Podunk Center.
The best way to deal with the issue is...