Safe spaces or free-speech suppression?

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With the start of the semester, many students find themselves living on a college campus for the first time. At the beautiful and sunny University of Miami, students expect to learn, grow and occasionally party.

However, these aren’t the only things students around the country are expecting of their universities. Once considered places for open discourse and intellectual growth, universities are now being charged with the responsibility of creating “safe spaces” for students. Not everyone thinks this is a positive development, though.

Meet Milo Yiannopoulos, a writer for conservative news source Breitbart News and an outspoken social-media personality. He even has a nation-wide campus tour dubbed the “Dangerous F****t Tour.” As both a gay male and a conservative, he is at a highly controversial political intersection which has bought him at least as many opponents as fans.

Some of these opponents are even willing to threaten violence in order to shut him down; University of Central Florida’s Deputy Chief of Police Brett Meade shut down Milo’s speech at UCF. The decision was made “following threats of violence on social media,” according to Breitbart News, as well as conflicts with other campus events requiring security that day.

You may not agree with Mr. Yiannopoulos. Nonetheless, college campuses are places to grow intellectually, and that requires the free exchange of ideas. You can publicly disagree with Milo, and you even have the right to peacefully protest his events. Yet forcing speakers to cancel speeches at universities because you disagree with them, either through petitioning for their cancellation or by threatening violence, is incongruous with the ideals of intellectual growth and free speech. Furthermore, outside of the academic sphere, students will not be granted these same protections from ideas that conflict with their own.

These students have a choice to either stifle free speech and ideas on the campuses they call home, or embrace them and converse with those who think differently than they do. Maybe even learn something as a result.

So UM students should ask themselves: What kind of campus do we want to be? Do we want to be like UCF, and shut down those who disagree with us? Or should our practices mirror University of Chicago, whose dean of students recently demonstrated their commitment to free speech in a letter to incoming freshmen that expressed their disapproval for safe spaces and trigger warnings?

Regardless of your personal point of view, free speech is a shared value that must be upheld regardless of who is speaking. Otherwise, when it’s your turn, you may be the one who is silenced and in a democratic society, everyone’s voice should be heard.

Sarah Samuels is a junior majoring in biochemistry.

Featured image courtesy Pixabay user Joenomias

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2 Comments

  1. Awesome article!!! Higher education includes an exchange of ideas which may not be your own. I hope it never comes to the point where UM wants to create “safe spaces”.

  2. Sarah, I am glad that you have taken the opportunity to address what “safe spaces” mean for students at the University of Miami. While I agree that freedom of speech is not only a right but a necessity for intellectual growth, I find that the line between freedom of speech and hate speech has become blurred. I agree that the integrity of free speech should be protected, and threats of violence should not shut down an event that promotes freedom of speech. I do think however that students need to be reminded that the right to freedom of speech does not provide students with the excuse to spread hate. A clear line needs to be drawn between speech that shares an opinion, and speech that only serves the purpose to offend others. Opposing viewpoints are essential for students to continue learning, but there is always a certain expectation that needs to be met when sharing these ideas. Good article.