In a startling new survey of college students conducted by the Brookings Institution, it was found that fully one in five students think that “using violence to disrupt a controversial speaker is acceptable.” There were “no statistically significant differences in response by political party affiliation.”
Other results from the survey indicate that 51 percent of students think that “shouting over controversial speakers so they can’t be heard” is acceptable. Sixty-two percent of Democrats agreed that this behavior was acceptable, compared to 39 percent of Republicans.
These disturbing findings have been born out in recent in events on college campuses across the country. This past March, students at Middlebury College in Vermont physically assaulted a professor who was accompanying guest speaker Charles Murray as he attempted to leave the campus, whose planned speech was interrupted to the point that he could not continue it. Just last week, The University of California Berkeley had to spend $600,000 on security to ensure that violent riots did not break out during Ben Shapiro’s speech there.
One has to wonder, what is it about free speech that many college students are so afraid of? What is the point of using violent and disruptive tactics to silence speakers who may have viewpoints that differ from these students? Wouldn’t engaging in respectful debate be more beneficial for everyone involved? If a certain viewpoint is seen as being so terrible as to be violently suppressed, why not simply demonstrate the terribleness of this viewpoint through rational discourse?
The protection of free speech is an issue that people of all political viewpoints must demand as a protected First Amendment right on college campuses. Thankfully, there are hopeful signs that more and more people from across the political spectrum are waking up to the urgency of this free speech crisis. Recently, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens spoke eloquently about this on Real Time with Bill Maher:
“Too many campus administrators are basically cowed by small minorities of totalitarian-minded students who just don’t want to hear anything except what they’re disposed to agree with. The job of grownups is to behave like grownups and say, ‘no.’ Intellectually, a college is not a ‘safe space.’ Intellectually, a college is going to be a place where your ideas are harmed, and perhaps even destroyed, and that’s as it should be.”
Author and professor Salman Rushdie brought this point home superbly:
“A college should be a ‘safe space’ for thought, not a ‘safe space’ from thought. And if you go to college and you never hear anything you haven’t thought before, then you may as well have stayed home. And people who think that they should never hear things that would upset them should go somewhere else and leave that space available to somebody who can benefit from what is called ‘education.’”