National media attention recently returned to UC Berkeley over the planned “Free Speech Week.”
Following dueling press releases over whether the event would occur and who would speak, the event largely fizzled out. Ben Shaprio did speak on campus a few weeks prior amid a heavy security tab estimated at $600,000.
These events reminded me of my campus activism. As a student at Santa Clara, I organized a campus forum that was to feature the co-author of Prop. 209. Sadly, a noisy “rent-a-mob” of largely off-campus protestors shut the event down before it began. Later, we put on a State Capitol rally as “counterprogramming” to a Jesse Jackson rally.
While I had strong political beliefs even back then, I relished the opportunity to engage and learn from fellow students with whom I disagreed. Challenged by those with different views forced me to reconsider my views and strengthen my arguments. In some instances, my thinking evolved after talking with those who had a different perspective.
To this day, I cherish the friendships I have with those across the aisle. Even though we don’t always agree, their willingness to engage and share their perspective has helped me broaden my worldview.
I wish more students would adopt that spirit. Sadly, too many on the left and right choose safe spaces over engagement. Unwilling to listen and learn, today’s campus agitators shout down opposing views and even engage in violent acts against controversial speakers.
Given this, the results of a controversial Brookings Institution study survey should not surprise us. Respondents were equally divided on whether it’s OK to shout down campus speakers. A majority said campuses should prohibit the expression of “offensive or biased” viewpoints. Worse, 20 percent think it’s OK to use violence to silence political speech.
Fortunately, there are signs things are changing. Assemblyman Kevin Kiley joined Bay Area liberal Assemblyman Bill Quirk in authoring a resolution (ACR 21) calling on California’s public colleges and universities to step up their efforts to protect free speech, which unanimously passed the Legislature.
This should be the guiding spirit of every California college administrator, faculty member, and student.
Liberal CNN commentator recently challenged University of Chicago students to “. . . not be safe ideologically. I don’t want you to be safe emotionally. I want you to be strong . . . Put on some boots and learn how to deal with adversity.” Evoking the legacy of his parents who faced firehoses and dogs when protesting authority, he exclaimed in disgust that, “You (students) can’t deal with a mean Tweet!”
He’s right and it’s a shame that he had to say that at all.
How disappointing that so many students in the state that birthed the free speech movement 50 years are so closed-minded that they can’t do something so basic – listening and learning from others.
Tim Anaya is communications director for Pacific Research Institute.