I work on a college campus, and I can tell you that we get more diverse political views than are represented on, say, Fox News. Public display boards are plastered with that Turning Point USA bullshit. The College Republicans routinely bring in speakers with inane points of view — anti-abortion, pro-religion, anti-environmental crap that I despise. If I, a left-leaning college professor at a liberal arts college, have no power to silence right-wing stupidity, then how can you claim that we have so much censorship power? If you’re so in favor of free speech, why do you complain about students using their free speech to protest?
Well, somebody understands that there is no free speech crisis on college campuses, at least.
“Chilling” is the word used in the Washington Post headline to describe college students’ supposed hostility to free speech. A new poll appears to indicate that 20% of college students believe it is appropriate to use violence to shut down hateful or offensive speakers. Thanks to a carefully orchestrated campaign, the notion that universities are hostile to the free exchange of ideas is slipping into mainstream opinion. It is a phony crisis manufactured by the same people who fuel the engines of climate denial. Right wing activists and donors are fighting to undermine universities because their values cannot thrive there. Modern conservatism is failing on campus because it shrivels in an atmosphere of intelligent, open debate.
That’s right. I do think if a speaker comes on campus to advocate for violence against certain groups, then we shouldn’t tolerate the intolerance, and they should be told to go speak at a Klan rally instead, and that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pelt them with milkshakes as they’re safely escorted away. That does not mean that we oppose a diversity of ideas…it means that doing harm will not be supported.
The idea that this reasonable assumption of non-destructive behavior is somehow “chilling” is a product of people like the Koch brothers or Dennis Prager or Charlie Kirk. They’re the ones who run the propaganda mills that are trying to shut down the free exchange of ideas and replace them with slavish dogmatism. They aren’t even very good at that.
More interesting than the flaws in the poll’s execution is the buried lede: the poll failed. Look behind the absurd headlines and the poll demonstrates the opposite conclusion. College students are much more open to free speech than the general public. If it’s “chilling” that 20% of college students misunderstand free speech, what word should we use to describe the quarter of the American public and almost half of Republicans who support censoring unfavorable media outlets. Also from this poll, the college students who identified as Democrats were more open to free speech than their Republican peers. And perhaps the most important lesson from these poll results: a carefully constructed poll can get a small minority of respondents to endorse almost anything.
The real problem is that a majority of college students have outgrown the reactionary Old Guard, the 1950s mentality that is crumbling away as the white majority recedes into an angry, resentful minority. Women outnumber men. The assumption of privilege is under assault.
What is really happening on college campuses? Young Americans, exposed to some of the most intellectually open environments that have ever existed in a human society, are rejecting the values of The Last Jim Crow Generation to an almost unanimous extent. This trend extends beyond politics. Younger Americans are making better, smarter, more morally admirable choices than their parents and grandparents in almost every respect. Today’s college students are less likely than their forebears to use illegal drugs, smoke cigarettes, or engage in dangerous or irresponsible sexual practices. They are less likely to get pregnant or marry early. Younger Americans are better informed, more tolerant of dissent, and less bigoted than older generations. They even have higher average IQ’s. Our political system is about to be rocked by a wider generation gap than we faced in the Sixties.
We should be proud that a younger generation is turning out better than we were, but no — instead, rich fucks just want to poison the well of new ideas. We have an opportunity here, to encourage people who could repair the damage my generation has done, don’t let the cowering guardians of the status quo burn it all down.