It’s easy. Pander to the editors’ opinions. Say you’re a liberal, but moan about how conservative viewpoints are suppressed on college campuses. Declare that controversial opinions are silenced. Say you want debate, you love debate, but gosh, those liberal campuses stifle the free and open discussion of ideas. That’s what Emma Camp accomplished, getting fluff called I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead.. Pure conservative click bait. She announces several times that she’s a liberal, but she interned with FIRE, the organization funded almost entirely by rich conservatives.
But, you might argue, she’s going to defend her position with evidence, right? Surely she’ll get her ducks in a row and present lots of evidence that you can’t talk freely on college campuses anymore. So let’s take a look at her
First up: office hours.
Each week, I seek out the office hours of a philosophy department professor willing to discuss with me complex ethical questions raised by her course on gender and sexuality. We keep our voices lowered, as if someone might overhear us.
Hushed voices and anxious looks dictate so many conversations on campus at the University of Virginia, where I’m finishing up my senior year.
Oh no! They weren’t shouting their discussion loudly so that everyone in the hallway could also hear them! Help, help, I’m being oppressed!
But wait, every week she is getting together with a professor to talk about ethics. How is this censorship?
This is a running theme. Speaking quietly in a one-on-one conversation is bad.
A friend lowers her voice to lament the ostracizing of a student who said something well-meaning but mildly offensive during a student club’s diversity training.
What “ostracizing”? Talk about that, if it happened, not this vague “lowers her voice” stuff.
Another friend shuts his bedroom door when I mention a lecture defending Thomas Jefferson from contemporary criticism. His roommate might hear us, he explains.
Yes? You’re talking about Thomas Jefferson on the UVa campus. You’re discussing, again in very vague terms, “contemporary criticism”. Maybe his roommate is tired of the subject? Maybe they want to study?
I went to college to learn from my professors and peers. I welcomed an environment that champions intellectual diversity and rigorous disagreement. Instead, my college experience has been defined by strict ideological conformity. Students of all political persuasions hold back — in class discussions, in friendly conversations, on social media — from saying what we really think. Even as a liberal who has attended abortion rights protests and written about standing up to racism, I sometimes feel afraid to fully speak my mind.
It’s called normal human behavior. People rarely just shout out their opinions in a typical social environment — they ease into the discussion. Sometimes you’re at a party and you don’t want to get in a fight with anyone, so you self-censor a bit, you hold back, you change the topic to something less argumentative. This is entirely ordinary, and is not a sign of a massive conspiracy to silence you.
Yeah, Ms Camp, we know, you’re a liberal interning with a conservative organization. Which side of the abortion rights protest were you on? You didn’t say. Also, you like to cite your bona fides in large strokes, but what, for instance, was your opinion of the “contemporary criticism” of Jefferson? What were you talking about with your ethics professor that compelled you to lower your voice? You seem to be remarkably shy about stating those opinions, even when you’ve got the NY Times bully pulpit. Why?
But wait — we’re about to get one paragraph of “data”.
In the classroom, backlash for unpopular opinions is so commonplace that many students have stopped voicing them, sometimes fearing lower grades if they don’t censor themselves. According to a 2021 survey administered by College Pulse of over 37,000 students at 159 colleges, 80 percent of students self-censor at least some of the time. Forty-eight percent of undergraduate students described themselves as “somewhat uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” with expressing their views on a controversial topic during classroom discussions. At U.Va., 57 percent of those surveyed feel that way.
Jesus. What did I just say? People self-censor all the time. I have to struggle to get students to express their uncontroversial views on uncontroversial topics all the time. Those statistics are meaningless.
When the data doesn’t help, fall back on the oppression of poor Emma Camp.
When a class discussion goes poorly for me, I can tell. During a feminist theory class in my sophomore year, I said that non-Indian women can criticize suttee, a historical practice of ritual suicide by Indian widows. This idea seems acceptable for academic discussion, but to many of my classmates, it was objectionable.
The room felt tense. I saw people shift in their seats. Someone got angry, and then everyone seemed to get angry. After the professor tried to move the discussion along, I still felt uneasy. I became a little less likely to speak up again and a little less trusting of my own thoughts.
I was shaken, but also determined to not silence myself. Still, the disdain of my fellow students stuck with me. I was a welcomed member of the group — and then I wasn’t.
Whoa, the idea that widows shouldn’t have to set themselves on fire at a funeral is too controversial for a feminist theory class? I do not believe it. This sounds exactly like the kind of thing that would make for a good discussion in such a class — the conflict between cultural values and individual autonomy. I think there’s more to it than she admits.
And then…her terrible, terrible punishment. Some people shifted in their seats. Someone disagreed angrily with her. Did Emma Camp want a debate or not? You know, that’s what happens in a debate — people might disagree strongly with you.
It’s not just Ms Camp. She has a Republican friend!
The consequences for saying something outside the norm can be steep. I met Stephen Wiecek at our debate club. He’s an outgoing, formidable first-year debater who often stays after meetings to help clean up. He’s also conservative. At U.Va., where only 9 percent of students surveyed described themselves as a “strong Republican” or “weak Republican,” that puts him in the minority.
He told me that he has often “straight-up lied” about his beliefs to avoid conflict. Sometimes it’s at a party, sometimes it’s at an a cappella rehearsal, and sometimes it’s in the classroom. When politics comes up, “I just kind of go into survival mode,” he said. “I tense up a lot more, because I’ve got to think very carefully about how I word things. It’s very anxiety inducing.”
Damn. A college student forced to “think very carefully.” Waily, waily, waily! What have we come to now? He can’t talk — loudly, no doubt — about his Republican views at an a cappella rehearsal!
We also have to acknowledge that the Republican party has literally gone mad over the years. He ought to be a little reluctant to publicly associate himself with a hate group, don’t you think?
The worst is yet to come.
This anxiety affects not just conservatives. I spoke with Abby Sacks, a progressive fourth-year student. She said she experienced a “pile-on” during a class discussion about sexism in media. She disagreed with her professor, who she said called “Captain Marvel” a feminist film. Ms. Sacks commented that she felt the film emphasized the title character’s physical strength instead of her internal conflict and emotions. She said this seemed to frustrate her professor.
Her classmates noticed. “It was just a succession of people, one after each other, each vehemently disagreeing with me,” she told me.
Her freely expressed opinion about a movie in a class “seemed to frustrate her professor”. Seemed. I don’t know what that means. Is it that he mildly disagreed with her? That he didn’t instantly conform to one student’s opinion? But I thought Ms Camp didn’t want ideological uniformity! And then, again for someone who is so desirous of debate, she is dismayed that a lot of people disagreed with her.
OK, then she talks about what she has done about this oppressive atmosphere.
I protested a university policy about the size of signs allowed on dorm room doors by mounting a large sign of the First Amendment. It was removed by the university. In response, I worked with administrators to create a less restrictive policy.
This is fairly weak tea here. The university did adjust it’s policy on signs on doors, “after signs posted on Lawn room doors last fall containing profanity such as “F—ck UVA,” as well as criticism of the University’s history of enslavement and inaccessibility, prompted calls for removal by some alumni and community members.” Policing profanity is one thing, but criticizing their history of enslavement is another. So why did Emma Camp post the First Amendment, which very few people would disagree with? Post something about your “contemporary criticism” of Thomas Jefferson instead. Make it fit within the limits of allowed signage. Force the university to dismantle it on the basis of the content, rather than just the dimensions. The university does have a legitimate interest in preventing the accumulation of ugly clutter.
She also wrote opinion pieces for the school paper.
As a columnist for the university paper, I implored students to embrace free expression. In response, I lost friends and faced a Twitter pile-on. I have been brave. And yet, without support, the activism of a few students like me changes little.
Her student paper op-eds read a lot like this NY Times op-ed. “I’m a LIBERAL! Free Speech! Liberals are too authoritarian!” Etc., etc., etc. I can fully understand why she lost friends and faced dissent — they’re just too insipid and clichéd and unaware, and a lot too self-centered. Her opinions were an empty embrace of buzzwords, and her examples of deplorable oppression were, as in this article, tepid and puerile. I predict a great future for her on the writing staff of some conservative news organization, like The Daily Caller or The Blaze or…no, she probably won’t stoop to The Epoch Times or InfoWars. She needs a place where declaiming her liberalness carries some counterfactual weight.
You know, like the NY Times.
As an 18 year old liberal just 5 years ago, I used to think progressives might be suppressing free speech or whatever. But then I learned that the Right/Center-Right was full of crap.
Extremely generously, can one say Emma Camp might be a liberal who hasn’t learned that the “free speech suppressed on college campuses” narrative is largely right-wing bullshit? Hmmm…Nah.
Leo Buzalsky says
Did she get her idea of what a debate should look like from Monty Python?
Susan Montgomery says
If she’s this sensitive to criticism, she wouldn’t last a day as a transperson.
Right-wing talking points are apparently all the rage among a certain class of so-called “liberals.”
For example, our honorable ex-governor (Andrew Cuomo, of NY State) is now blaming his being forced to resign on “cancel culture,” rather than his own culture of arrogance and bullying. And of course, his complaints are being reported on all the news channels to make sure we know just how “cancelled” he is being.
(“Cancelled”? We can only wish!)
Reginald Selkirk says
There are people who think problems are settled by debate. Creationists, for example. She would have been better off if she came to college eager to learn, so that she would have something better to debate.
Leo Buzalsky says
As for this…
My white supremacist alarm bells were going off. I wonder if that’s the “more” that could be going on. Or I might be jaded from the atheist movement from the likes of Sam Harris using Muslims for intellectual target practice while ignoring problems within their own in-group. And, of course, him suggesting profiling people is rational, actually. So did the conversation quickly go from “this is wrong” to “those people are backwards and inferior to us whites” (with perhaps that latter part being implied)?
Susan Montgomery says
@4 you’re making the potentially flawed assumption that he ever believed in anything.
She’s trying to get her name out there as leading the next generation of right-wing grifters playing the victim as a means of controlling the narrative around what should and should not be acceptable speech. And she should be called out for being the empty-headed right-wing fascist prop that she is.
Following up the links she used as examples of cancelling, the totality of her entire argument is “we must tolerate intolerance and not tolerate those who fight intolerance.” It’s pretty bog standard right-wing whining, completely identical to every other blog post, youtube video, news segment, or op-ed decrying cancel culture that has been made in the past 10 years. The more they keep repeating it, and the more the rest of us keep engaging with it, the more they get to control the narrative. It’s effective propaganda.
I could only make it through a few paragraphs.
I’ve had my quota of atrocities for this morning already.
What I saw was yet again another massacre, a mass killing.
There were piles of dead strawpeople everywhere.
Emma Camp is a mass murderer on the scale of the Russians.
Brony, Social Justice Cenobite says
I wonder what she would make of me. Thanks to the tourette syndrome I self censor more than the average person, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. I’m the one whose mind shows them terrible things just to remind they are there. This kind of tension between kinds of individuals is probably part of how the system works. I may have some things but not every terrible thing in my head is useful at a given moment.
R. L. Foster says
Welcome to the world of adulthood, Ms. Camp. You may find this intolerable, but not everyone you encounter is going to agree with you. Not everyone will listen in respectful silence and nod in agreement with whatever positions or opinions you may wish to share. Hell, not everyone you meet will even like you. This is not censorship. It’s called the rough and tumble of the exchange of ideas. But there are some opinions that cross a line. If someone tells me that they believe Blacks are genetically inferior to Whites I’m going to jump down their throats. If someone tells me that because American Indians fought among themselves that made it alright for England to empty its slums and send the scum of their society to this continent with state sanctioned approval to kill as many natives as they could, well, you can imagine how I will respond. And, as we all know by now, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves yet he wrote one of the finest declarations in favor of individual freedom ever penned. That’s a subject ripe for vigorous discussion and conflicting viewpoints. If the one thing you learned in university is that not everyone will agree with you and that toughened your hide then you got your money’s worth. But, if you come away with the sense that universities are bastions of liberal thought and you are being shouted down you might want to ask yourself why is that the case? The fault may not lie in the university, but much closer to home.
Yeah, I read that yesterday and even wrote a short comment in reply. I’m trying to wrap my head around the kind of “self-censorship” that includes publishing over 1000 words in a newspaper with international readership. Is she expecting to be “ostracized” for this? I kind of doubt it.
Ian King says
It’s genuinely hard to tell what the author actually wants. It’s not like you can scientifically analyse ethics to work out which opinions are correct. If you say things that the people around you think are shitty, then those people are not going to like you. They are going to think you are a shitty person. While I can understand abstractly that holding shitty opinions does not damn your eternal soul, people can and do change their views, that doesn’t mean you get to think and say whatever you want without the people around you calling you on it.
That’s kind of the whole point, right? The only way that article makes sense is if she went to college thinking that all of her awful political takes, which she must assume are objectively correct, were going to change the minds of everyone she met, by the sheer force of their perfect obviousness. It’s arrogance. This kind of person does not want a debate because they hope to be exposed to new ideas, they want the people around them to bow before their awesome intellect and moral righteousness. They want to hold unpopular beliefs, and still be invited to parties. It’s pathetic.
Akira MacKenzie says
Can I be the first to accuse this vile scut of being a lying sack of shit?
About a month ago, I watched my last ever episode of Bill Maher’s TV show. On that episode, he had on some bint who was ‘so over Covid’. With Maher in total agreement with her.
This Ms. Camp displays the same kinds of intellectual narcissism and willful ignorance.
Just to get this out of the way, I did some searching on what I vaguely remembered of complaints about “speech codes” in the early 90s, and found this article 1993 from the Harvard Crimson. OK, the emphasis is a little different, since it is not explicitly addressing political views but potentially insensitive speech (though that comes up today too). I still believe the issue is as overblown now as it as then, and a lot of people like Emma Camp (if she really is as liberal as she says) are tools of an organized attack on universities. Maybe she should encourage her friends to stop self-censoring and inject their ideas into the discourse. She presents some evidence for fear of ostracism, yet precious little evidence that the ostracism actually exists.
It seems to me if there is any group pressuring conservative college students to “self-censor” it is those organizations saying “The big bad liberals gonna get you if you try.” Just form clubs and discuss or debate whatever you want. Also, there is nothing stopping you from taking the “debate” off campus. There are many forums for presenting views, and we’re in an age where outright fascism is actually finding a more sympathetic audience than it did 30 years ago.
Finally, I have to admit I did not “come to college eager to debate.” I am not sure if I had really realistic views on what to expect. I was a kid. I thought I would get a basis in science and engineering that I’d be unlikely to achieve just by reading books myself. I expected to write some papers in breadth courses. I thought I was already a better computer programmer than I actually was, so it the biggest awakening there was how much I actually had to learn about theory of computation, and how exciting it would turn out to be.
Debate? OK, I guess some pre-law students might be eager for that. But isn’t it a little like saying “I joined the Marines eager to develop new tactics in amphibious assault.” I mean, maybe some day, for some people, but the first thing is going to be boot camp. While that’s an extreme, in nearly every discipline, you need to learn a foundation first. The “debates” are fine but they are unlikely to touch any new ground in an undergraduate curriculum.
This bears repeating. I would guess that a great deal of classroom “self-censorship” amounts to: (a) I didn’t read the textbook, and have no idea. (b) I am not sure I understood and I don’t want to be wrong in front of people. (c) I don’t want to be that dork who speaks up in class a lot. (d) Class participation requires more effort than I care to offer right now. (e) I just don’t like public speaking in general.
I am very familiar with the experience as a teacher (though it has been many year) of getting a sea of blank stares. Honestly, if someone would chime in even with a really bad idea (“That loop requires n! steps to run.”) I would probably be overjoyed at any assertion. “Yes. I see how you might think that, but we are adding, not multiplying. In fact this summation comes to O(n^2), which is a quadratic, and a lot less than factorial.”
If the subject was politically sensitive, well then what the hell do I know? Some professors can be assholes, just like everyone else. But the sheer difficulty of getting a student to parrot back something from the assigned reading makes me wonder how you could determine if anyone was “self-censoring” out of some misplaced fear of retribution.
By “liberal” I assume she means that she is okay with gay people and that’s it. She’ll probably use this piece to get a job at Turning Point USA.
~20 years ago when I first attended college, coming from a conservative family I felt some of these self-censoring urges and needs to conform. What happened? I expressed them and debated with TAs and other students and they were not popular. And to be honest, these ideas were less conservative than this supposed liberal expresses in this article. The discussions gave me insight into why others thought the way they did, and I realized the assumptions I was conditioned with weren’t always accurate reflections of what was going on.
In short, this person says they want debate, but they want not to be challenged. They are upset that their views make others uncomfortable. If your views are so toxic that expressing them might make you a pariah, maybe analyze why that is. I’m pretty sure that introspection, broadening horizons, and finding limits is a huge part of the university experience. In fact, as an engineering student with relatively few social science classes, that is the bulk of what I learned outside math and physics.
Maybe this gets at the heart of the problem. Freedom of expression requires that you can express unpopular views without fear of official suppression or retribution. It does not mean that you get to express unpopular views and remain “popular” among people who disagree with you or find your beliefs offensive. That’s the social risk you take. If you come to college “eager to debate” you also ought to come prepared to take social risks and develop a thick skin.
When I think back to college in the 80s, since I was mostly taking STEM classes, there wasn’t a lot of “debate” in class. I had classes like US history that involved class discussion, but even there, it was circumscribed by a conventional interpretation (e.g. of the 19th century progressive movement). We weren’t there to break ground or resolve anything new in an introductory class.
But I was also a member of the science fiction club at a mildly conservative state university. That was a pretty varied mix of misfits (as I count myself) that could disagree a lot of whether they liked Reagan or hated him, their view on the use of military force, belief in market solutions, LGBTQ identity or outright homophobia. You could “debate”, or “joke” about any of this and some people did. In some cases, people made themselves into pariahs that way (or lovable laughingstock if you weren’t personally offended). For a small group, there was factionalism. On the other hand, I think there was at least some recognition of the risks you take.
I am not really sure what Ms. Camp would propose as an alternative. Surely I could express views that offend her enough that she would never want to talk to me. I might “self-censor” just to avoid a sensitive topic. It’s simply human nature and doesn’t go away with “debate” in college.
Jake Wildstrom says
Two good palate cleansers for this:
The Methods of Moral Panic Journalism by Michael Hobbes, a checklist of pretty much the exact set of fallacies committed by this article, and Inside Mississippi’s only class on critical race theory, a story of a college student who seems to actually hold the ideals she asserts but has the flexibility to acknowledge when her fellow-travelers have the wrong end of the stick.
Ronald Couch says
I’m in agreement with Akira @14. This person is a lying sack. She is just making things up as is often done by conservatives/reactionaries when they try to make a point that has no validity. There is no reason to try to figure anything out and to try to understand. She is a liar pure and simple.
bcw bcw says
In short, the New York Times is publishing someone who thinks “Free Speech means people still have to like me when I express offensive opinions.”
Unfortunately, this seems to be the modern conservative understanding of Free Speech, with the proviso of course, that only Conservative opinions are included.
to take an expression from a different setting she is just a “karen” full of privilege and victimhood.
She does not tell us what any of her views or ideas are that would get her ostracized or turned her fellow students away. reading between the lines she does not want debate she wants agreement with what she says. the conservative makes a statement which others disagree with and express that and that is cancel culture. The conservative brands all who disagree with them are traitors and enemies of the people and enemies of free speech that is not cancel culture
it is not cancel culture when they do it it is only free speech when they say. If you disagree you should be banned.
they pass laws against teaching whole subjects and how to teach them and cry cancel culture if anyone just expresses disagreement.
These self-proclaimed “liberals” who are actually conservatives are like the self-proclaimed “atheists” who Ray Comfort manages to convert to theism.
More generally. Being a “liberal” on campus is exactly what university is about. Being a liberal means exploring ideas, reaponding to evidence, being open to changing your mind. There shouldn’t be room on campus for dogmatic, unbending ideologues of the Right. They belong at a MAGA rally or on Joe Rogan’s show. And this is the purpose of this “free speech” charade. Force universities, and their staff, and their students to embrace neoconservative ideology.
I was relatively conservative when I went to undergraduate university. I could be a little obnoxious about expressing my opinions, at least on occasion. I actually got less pushback from my friends and other peers than I probably deserved, given how immature I was at the time.
There isn’t some big conspiracy on campuses to stifle right wing thought. There are just a lot of people who don’t like right wing views and are offended by them. This isn’t surprising, since so many right wing views are based around hostility or contempt for other people. What a lot of right-wingers really seem to be asking for is for anyone who disagrees with them to self-censor their opinions and not push back. This is a much bigger violation of freedom of speech and expression than anything the left is asking for.
@26 yes indeed, “cancel culture” is used almost exclusively by the Right.
It sounds to me like she’s so fixated on people speaking with her softly because she had this fantasy of her stirring debate rhetoric drawing spellbound crowds, with her as the center of attention (probably spent too much time in high school admiring paintings of the Founders working on the Constitution). How can she attract these crowds if other people in the halls, offices and dorms can’t overhear her conversations? But she didn’t get the attention for her ideas that she sought, so she turned to the NYT to broadcast them.
Agreed. “I merely expressed the possibility that Herrnstein and Murray might have a point and was met with a cold stare. I’m being censored!” I mean if these people were actually “cancelled”, “silenced”, and “deplatformed” how is it that I hear so much from them?
We’ve heard that racist crap a zillion times. Hernstein and Murray came out in 1994.
It’s old and boring and wrong and we have far better things to do with our time and attention.
Don P says
I think somebody wrote that Op-Ed as an audition to replace Bari Weiss as the culture war critic of the New York Times. If she doesn’t get that, she will end up at the Daily Wire or some other right wing operation funded by billionaires. I think she made up every one of those anecdotes. Yet another reminder of why I don’t read the New York Times.
She’s attempting to get her name out there as driving the up-and-coming age of conservative frauds playing the casualty for the purpose of controlling here https://www.rushessay.com/ the account around what endlessly ought not to be satisfactory discourse. Also, she ought to be called out for being the dim-witted traditional fundamentalist prop that she is.