In the last 3 months we have witnessed Jewish students being harassed on Harvard’s campus. We have watched pro-Hamas demonstrators chanting anti-Jewish phrases while marching across the campus and occupying Harvard libraries.
Watching these demonstrators praise the actions of Hamas rapists and child killers, it is easy to fall prey to supporting the very curtailment of free expression that so many conservative voices have experienced.
Theo Tobel, a first year Jewish student at Harvard College, recently wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Tobel reminds us that “Open dialogue with people of differing viewpoints is critical on college campuses, where students are in the process of learning and developing opinions.”
Tobel quoted John Stuart Mill who was discussing the negative consequences of curtailing freedom of expression. Mill wrote: “If the [opposing] opinion is right, [people] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
What has slowly occurred over the last decade is a slide towards allowing the free expression of any leftist thought on college campuses while enforcing a de facto silencing of conservative thought. Conservative speakers are shouted down or disinvited to college campuses while leftist speakers are welcomed with open arms.
This biased approach became acceptable when colleges focused on “safe spaces” where leftist Democrat students would never feel uncomfortable. The college deans (almost exclusively Democrats) did not care if conservatives felt uncomfortable.
This charade fell apart 3 months ago. On the very campuses where the administration was concerned about making students feel comfortable, Jewish students were harassed on their way to classes. Jewish students had to watch speakers praise Hamas after their pogrom against Jewish people. The Democrat leaders of these campuses did nothing to stop the assaults on Jewish students.
We had been told for years that racism was the purview of conservative whites. These last 3 months the Democrats in control of these college campuses showed us the racists were not the conservatives, but rather the Democrat leaders who joined in praising Hamas.
Now, we as Americans have an opportunity to reset how we handle speech and debate on college campuses.
Tobel wrote, “The solution lies not in reining in slogans such a ‘From the River to the Sea’ but in permitting all speech unless it disrupts the academic environment or is a form of unprotected speech as defined by the First Amendment (i.e. incitement, fighting words, and true threats). Tobel insightfully points out that “there is a salient difference between speech that compromises student’s physical safety and speech that creates emotional discomfort.”
Over the past decade the university administrators have chosen to suppress free speech from conservatives in order to keep the leftist students free from “emotional discomfort.”
The pendulum is slowly swinging back towards allowing free speech for all students. It may result in people on both sides of the political spectrum feeling uncomfortable. That is the beauty of America.