From the Wall Street Journal
Higher education’s suppression of speech is well-publicized. But in an odder and less well-known twist, campuses are increasingly co-opting the language of free speech and using it to justify censorship. One example: The designated “free speech zones” that exist on roughly 1 in 10 U.S. college campuses, according to a report released last month by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The very existence of a “free speech zone” suggests that students’ expression is limited elsewhere on campus. And even in the “free” zones, administrators often restrict who can speak, when and for how long.
Dozens of universities have also used the language of free speech to justify trendy “Language Matters” or “Inclusive Language” campaigns. The point of these programs is to condition students to wince away from words and phrases deemed offensive, instead using politically correct substitutes.
Among the campaigns’ common targets are “hey guys” and “man up” (too gendered), as well as “crazy” (inconsiderate of people with mental illness) and “lame” (disrespectful to the disabled). Ironically—and insidiously—these “inclusive” language campaigns seek to exclude opposing political or cultural viewpoints. It’s an attempt to ban not only words but also thoughts.
The University of Northern Colorado’s “Language Matters” campaign last year warned students not to say “All lives matter.” The dean of students, Katrina Rodriguez, defended the program in an email last June to Heat Street, where I am political editor, saying it was “about being mindful about how words can affect others and the conversations provide an opportunity for individuals to understand why particular language may be hurtful to someone else in our community of learners.”
She continued: “We believe that fostering dialogue on a college campus so that multiple perspectives are explored and debated is the essence of free speech.”
The inclusive-language campaigns at the University of Wisconsin’s campuses in Milwaukee and River Falls have also discouraged students from saying “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien,” because either term “fixates on legal status instead of people as individuals” and “asserts that only certain groups belong in the U.S.”
UW-Milwaukee even included “politically correct” on its list of disfavored terms, arguing that it “has become a way to deflect, say that people are being too ‘sensitive’ and police language.”
Which brings us to the warped idea that by suppressing “dominant” voices, universities actually further free speech. Katherine Kvellestad, a University of Pennsylvania student, recently used a version of this argument to defend students who wanted a portrait of Shakespeare removed from the English department. The students also pushed for an English curriculum with fewer white, male writers.
“I think, in a way, the whole PC culture idea can almost promote free speech because there are a lot of people who have been marginalized in the past,” Ms. Kvellestad told Heat Street during a phone interview in December. “So it’s kind of free speech in a different sense, that we’re giving credence and voices to voices that we were not hearing.”
One of Ms. Kvellestad’s fellow Penn students made a related argument in a Jan. 11 op-ed in the student newspaper, claiming that his white professors’ refusal to censor class content had hindered his ability to learn. Sophomore James Fisher described how one Penn professor showed depictions of slavery and let students make comments Mr. Fisher considered “ignorant.” He told the professor that “what he was doing was traumatic to me . . . [so] I would not allow him to continue.”
The professor, Mr. Fisher wrote, “then used the argument that, in order to make the class a ‘safe space,’ he had to protect the voice of all students in class. . . . So, because my professor wanted to protect the voices of the white students who benefit from black oppression, the oppression unfortunately continued.”
In “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell describes how the misuse of language can lead to messy thinking—and how, even worse, intentionally imprecise language can soften or obscure abhorrent ideas. He anticipated a world in which administrators, professors and students demand the right to act as censors even as they claim to venerate the right to unrestricted expression.
The writer, Jillian Kay Melchior, is an Political Editor at Heat Street
, which does an excellent job of reporting on censorship on college campuses.
Labels: Academic Freedom, Colleges and Universities, Fascism, Free Speech, Heat Street, Leftist Intolerance, Liberal Intolerance, Political Correctness