STAFF EDITORIAL: Free Speech Isn’t Just for the Left

Courtesy of Loyola University Chicago

For United States citizens, freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment. It’s considered by many to be the most important amendment and a fundamental American value. No matter what pretenses can be made about the nation’s morality when the amendment was added to the constitution, it should be agreed upon that people should be allowed to speak their mind freely.

College campuses must protect that freedom to foster a healthy, productive learning environment. What’s more, contentious discourse in classes otherwise can help college students evolve for the better.

In college, a time when students are surrounded by diverse groups and opinions, campuses should be home to more of this intelligent debate than anywhere else.

Only 10 percent of college students in the country rated President Donald Trump positively in 2016, according to The Panetta Institute for Public Policy, making Trump supporters a minority on college campuses. Loyola is no different — The Phoenix reported in 2017 that some Trump supporters felt alienated on campus.

While Loyola and other colleges are overwhelmingly liberal, that can lead to class discussions and campus culture leaning harshly to one side of the political spectrum. If liberal college students don’t learn to listen to other opinions and consider new perspectives, they’re arguably as close-minded as those they criticize for being ignorant.

In a letter to the University of Chicago’s class of 2020, the university’s Office of the Dean of Students said it doesn’t condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.” The office also said it’s the university’s priority to foster different kinds of ideas to promote a campus which supports people of all backgrounds.

Earlier this month, Fox News contributor Donna Brazile and former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who resigned from the Trump administration in 2017, were met with protests and petitions when he was scheduled to speak at Northeastern Illinois University. The protesters practiced their free speech — and so did Brazile and Spicer.

More locally, DePaul University students protested Charles Murray and Ben Shapiro when they were invited to speak at the school. In 2017, conservative political scientist and writer Murray was invited by the DePaul College Republicans to speak on campus, but was met with protests. A year earlier, Shapiro — a conservative political commentator — was kept from speaking on campus by the university after being invited by the conservative group DePaul’s Young Americans for Freedom.

While Loyola hasn’t found itself in situations like these, conservative students have voiced their concerns about feeling stifled on campus. This is a space where open and honest discussions should thrive.

There’s a common misconception among liberal college students — that conservative students are uneducated and lack the logic to back up their ideas. This isn’t necessarily true, but if liberal students refuse to hear out the opposite side, they’ll never have the opportunity to listen to the reasoning behind someone’s beliefs.

That said, not all conservative students are Trump supporters. There are plenty of moderate Republicans who don’t like him and disagree with his divisive rhetoric. Those students shouldn’t be shut down simply because they share a party affiliation with Trump.

Instead, they should feel like they can speak up about their beliefs. The extremists are typically the ones who get the attention, leaving the moderates in an uncomfortable position, especially when Trump opens his Twitter app.

At a time where the political spectrum is undoubtedly polarized, the opportunity for open — and sometimes tense — discourse is vital.

The chances of changing someone’s mind are slim, but everyone deserves the opportunity to speak their own. That’s what free speech is about — the ability to have a voice. The First Amendment doesn’t claim that everyone must agree with you. That’s something that requires a good argument.

Arguing is necessary for progress. This is a politically turbulent time in which the nation is divided and we see it more on college campuses than almost anywhere else. There are a lot of things to argue about but if we don’t talk about them now, then when?

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