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Free speech needs a safe space on campus

By Ehren Wynder

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TRIGGER WARNING: The University of Chicago will not provide safe spaces in 2016. (Photo provided)

About a month ago, the University of Chicago made national headlines when the dean’s office, in an up-front welcome letter to new students, stated that the university does not support “trigger warnings” or the installation of “intellectual safe spaces.”

The letter was issued in response to a disturbing trend of colleges and universities across the nation providing “intellectual safe spaces” where students can safeguard themselves from ideas that combat their own values and cancelling speakers at the behest of protestors.

While Chicago is not alone in its move to provide another kind of “safe space” for free thought, it has been the first to release such an on-the-nose response to the trend. While many have criticized such a delivery, the university did the right thing in identifying the problem for what it is.

Particularly in this time marked by police protests, violent extremism and bombastic presidential candidates, there is a dearth of calm and level-headed thinkers. Discussion is gradually being segmented between two extremes — the vulgar, inflammatory rhetoric of the sharply increasing “Alt-Right” movement, and the repressive political correctness of left-leaning language police.

The bluntness of Chicago’s welcome letter is a siege engine in an age where opinions are preserved in iron fortresses safe from any dissenting belief.

If rational discussions cannot be held at an academic institution, where else can they be held? If students are not challenged and shaped intellectually while they’re in a place of higher learning, then they’re being set up for failure in the “real” world.

The institution of “safe spaces” was arguably created with good intentions in mind, providing a place where people like racial and religious minorities, the LGBT community and people who have suffered abuse can come and learn free from discrimination. But ultimately, the silencing of free speech, even the most offensive examples, has provided ammunition for those who would level such vulgar attacks.

Educated individuals should instead seek to further the conversation, and when confronted with conflicting viewpoints, should respond with intellectual reasoning.

The attempt to silencing opinions that most reasonable individuals would declare offensive, i.e. racism or homophobia, has provided nothing to amend such hostilities. It has instead bolstered the persecution complex of the Alt-Right, and given it reason to increase its offense.

When people try to quiet dissenting opinions, it is an admittance of defeat. The regulation of free speech is a white flag that tells the opposition “you win. Now please go away.” A construct that was intended to protect vulnerable groups has merely increased these groups’ vulnerability.

No academic institution, Huntington University included, should ever become a safe haven for one particular set of beliefs. Such environments bolster hostility towards the “out group,” whoever that may be, and hamper constructive conversations of hot-button issues.

Even when expressing the Christian faith, Huntington cannot afford to become a Christian think tank. It gives students the false sense of security from the realization that there is a wide and diverse world beyond this campus. They will one day have to interact with people who pray to a different god than they do, or people who pray to no god at all. In the interest of furthering civil communication, free speech must rule over protection of ideals.

 

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