Benjamin Franklin once wrote that “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government: When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.”
Liu Xiaobo, in challenging the oppression of Chinese communism, said, “Free expression is the base of human rights, the root of human nature and the mother of truth. To kill free speech is to insult human rights, to stifle human nature and to suppress [the] truth.”
Louis D. Brandeis, a U.S. Supreme Court justice appointed by Woodrow Wilson, proclaimed that “It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.”
What all of these figures from recent human history, including scores of other great voices for freedom of speech (American or foreign), have in common is the basic, underlying acceptance of unhindered free speech as a weapon of peace and diversity in the great experiment of humanity’s free will.
Actually, if these men were alive or free today, they would be visionaries for First Amendment advocates, taking the makeup of their words literally.
Sadly, in our modern era, the art of civil discourse, especially in the realm of academia and on the American college campus, has been reduced to a narrative of supposed victimization.
With the rise of safe spaces and the continued utilization of politically correct vernacular, for both liberal and conservative college students alike, the purpose of the University’s role has been defeated, leaving the current generation of young people, the millennials, enthralled with a variant form of a victim’s mentality when it comes to voicing opinions in the public square.
A cultural war is ensuing on the college campus daily, coupled with the fact that the field of academics has long been a harbinger of foreign ideas, new schools of thought, and a catalyst for innovation. Yet, the people who are fighting this “war” are commonly students and professors, regardless of their political thoughts, who feel that the new order of the time sees a controversial marriage between academic inquiry and socio-political activism on the horizon. Many wish to join the rise of this while very few wish to resist it. Thus, the scene of our state of affairs opens up the overarching thought that many students and professors are now victims of oppressed free speech, given the nature of the ambient social narrative dictated by the cultures and subcultures of a specific student body, administration, and faculty.
In fact, such a line of reasoning would suggest that a victim’s mentality is apparent. Based on recent cases, and just the political climate of a post-General Election time period, a victim’s mentality dealing with the suppression of an individual’s or group’s freedom of speech lends credibility to a hypervigilance that blames others for one’s self-misgivings.
However, what is the standard for navigating campuses where students are verbally, and sometimes physically, battered down for refusing to be victims to a society’s view on certain forms of free and protected speech?
The answer is simple: Advocating for the end of a victim’s mentality.
One way of approaching this is to expose to college-going millennials, specifically, that the constant distrust and self-defeatism is not an acceptable excuse for facing hard realities (i.e. through the millennial standpoint, the election of President Donald Trump and/or controversial speakers inherently disagreeing with some components of social justice, for example.)
An external focus of control, the psychological framework for understanding the perception of oneself blaming circumstance, emotions, and struggles on outside factors, is clearly at play among the many college students who feel that speaking up will invite discomfort to their “bubble” lifestyles. However, if you were to pop the “bubble,” the students who feel suppressed will realize that free speech corroborates to free will.
Putting students in a position to force them to start thinking for themselves can introduce them to new perspectives and form opinions that were once thought contrarian to them.
Nevertheless, popping the “bubble” could end the widely shared mentality that the outside world is there to dictate one’s life. Times have changed. Students, especially those undergoing the rigorous studies of higher education, must be compelled to exercise academic freedom of speech and inquiry without fearing a repercussion.
The year is 2017 and millennials, my generation, must show that we are the self-starters that social scientists have pegged us to be. Being a victim of suppressed free will is not my intention.