WASHINGTON, April 7, 2016 — Gradually, political correctness has carved a deep impression in the minds of our youth. It has led students to attack freedom of speech, the key element driving the First Amendment in our Constitution, in the name of “tolerance” and “inclusivity.” Students are calling for “conflict-free” or “safe” zones to avoid any type of speech that they deem hurtful, racist or biased against any religion or ideology they deem in need of protection.
What makes these young people feel they can make demands to curb the very basis for our constitutional system? And why do their demands for protection from emotional discomfort trump the speech rights of everyone else at the university?
Their attempts to revise the Constitution or push deans and college presidents to ignore it run counter to the point of the document. The document that serves as the legal foundation for this country is not trivial or unimportant. The rights enumerated in the Constitution are rights that were fought over, died for and raised as a beacon to the rest of the world to define who we are as Americans.
A November 2015 protest at the University of Missouri was a flashback to the demonstrations of the ’60s and ’70s, though it was generally peaceful.
However, one person was in no mood for peace. Melissa Click, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri Department of Communication, was videoed trying to confiscate a recording device from Mark Schierbecker, a student journalist at the college. When Schierbecker asked to interview her, she became hostile and demanded that he leave the area, a public space on the campus. When he refused, Click summoned a mob of protesters who formed a human wall to “muscle” him out of the media “safe space” area.
Schierbecker videod the entire incident, which also showed student activists trying to intimidate Tim Tai, a student photographer.
The incident caused applications and donations to the University to drop and sparked an intensive investigation. After the investigation, Click was fired.
The incident also prompted a large number of questions. What exactly is the purpose of a media “safe space”? Doesn’t the idea of a “safe space” violate the First Amendment and impinge on both the freedom speech and the freedom of the press?
Yale University experienced an anti-constitutional moment in October 2015. It started with an email response from Erika Christakis, associate master of Yale’s Silliman College, to an earlier university message asking students to “be thoughtful about the cultural implications of their Halloween costumes.”
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), “In her response, Christakis questioned what she and some Silliman students determined to be an invasion into the expressive rights of college students that would cause their autonomy to be compromised. In response, Yale students accused Christakis and her husband, master of Silliman College, Nicholas Christakis, who defended her email, of failing to create a ‘safe space’ for Silliman residents. Others demanded they resign or the university remove them from their positions.”
On Nov. 5, 2015, FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff recorded a video of students confronting Nicholas Christakis on the Yale campus. The video features a student who verbally attacks Christakis because he did not apologize. The students claimed they were “hurting.” (Be advised, this video contains foul language at the end.)
According to FIRE, on Nov. 17, the president of Yale University and dean of Yale College sent an email to Yale’s Silliman College community reaffirming their support for the Christakises in their roles at Silliman College. Then, on Dec. 4, “The Washington Post” reported that Erika was resigning from her teaching role at Yale “to return to her work with young children and families.” Nicholas also announced a sabbatical during the spring 2016 semester.
These campus protesters are missing an important point regarding constitutional rights: They extend to those other than themselves and are designed to protect alternative and unpopular groups and points of view. These student groups have no regard for rights other than their own.
Why do they feel they are above everyone else? Why, even though they have achieved adult age and reside at a university, do they feel entitled to protection from everyday situations and problems? What gives them the right to demand that the First Amendment rights of others be stifled simply to keep their feelings from being hurt?
According to Pew Research, 40 percent of millenials approve of limiting “offensive” speech, a large number but not a majority. But Yale’s William F. Buckley Jr. Program commissioned a survey from McLaughlin & Associates about attitudes towards free speech on campus. They found that 51 percent favor speech codes to regulate speech for students and faculty, with 36 percent opposed. Political correctness has been allowed to impress student minds into believing that truth cannot be spoken unless sugar-coated first.
Amazingly, the real-life situations and confrontations students are desperately trying to avoid are the very lessons their parents, grandparents and other relatives, learned from, grew from and formed their future lives with. What is wrong with learning the true nature of real life, especially when it will be waiting for them as they leave the university with their diplomas in hand?
As George Orwell once observed, “Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.”