The freedom to openly voice support for the Republican Party is being threatened on college campuses fueling the debate about free speech among liberal arts students, Gen Z Voice Amanda Parisse writes
The 2016 election disputes regarding the right to free speech turned the Goucher College campus into a battlefield. In the days leading up to the election, tensions were high among the student body. The tipping point for the campus was the erection of a “Make America Great Again” banner in a freshman’s dorm window.
Within hours the student body reacted negatively, the majority of them expressing feelings of being “personally attacked” and feeling unsafe. The student body was alerted about this display of an unpopular opinion by a student post on social media.
Censoring Free Speech
The initial post inspired the majority of the student body to join in criticizing their fellow classmate’s actions. They expressed feeling attacked by the display of an opinion that they did not agree with. Despite the supposed open mind of the student body, nobody defended the student’s actions.
Despite the constitutional right to freely express one’s beliefs, there was no benefit of the doubt for the student in question. Within hours of the banner being hung, the person responsible had been called out on social media.
In attacking the actions of the student, the student body sent the rest of campus a message; as long as they stick to the popular belief system, students will accept them.
The distinction between hate speech and free speech
The distinction between hate speech and free speech is often blurred among liberal arts students, by confusing things they find simply offensive with valid examples of hate speech. Students instinctively see the expression of political beliefs different from their own as an outright attack against them. Despite the fact that the banner was not attacking a group or individual, students found it threatening.
By censoring the unpopular opinion, liberal students are contradicting themselves. There is a double standard seen across liberal arts campuses; showing one’s support for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton is considered socially acceptable, the exact same action with a Trump sign is met with outrage from the student body. That should not be happening.
In attacking the student who promoted his personal political agenda, the student body showed a double standard.
Right to Freedom of Expression Based on Majority Rule
The right to voice one’s political opinions on a college campus is seemingly dictated by the majority rule.Those who hold an opinion that differs from the student body have to choose between staying quiet, or risk being publicly ostracized by their peers. This was seen in the backlash the student received after hanging the banner in his window, within minutes his social standing at the campus was severely impacted.
On college campuses, terms like politically correct are being used as a blanket term in order to suffocate unpopular opinion. Students claiming that a banner displaying the slogan “Make America Great Again” should be considered politically incorrect serves to censor a student’s free speech and the freedom to express political preferences, openly.
In an effort to protect their beliefs, the masses are infringing on the democratic liberties of their peers. Students have freedom of expression until they state their opinions in public – then, watch out! When politics get involved, true free expression is impossible to find.
Instead of respecting the right to freedom of expression, the student body not only openly criticized political opinions but also sought to suffocate his voice. The majority of the discussion thread centered around free speech and that “freedom of speech does NOT extend to hate speech” feeling personally attacked by the student openly displaying his political opinions. One student commented “ hopefully they stop drinking dumb @#$% juice soon” implying that the person responsible for the flag was stupid and that his voice was not welcome on campus. Despite the word “free” being the word free speech, the student body failed to grasp the meaning of the word, attempting to silence their peers’ political expression.
The attempts to protect themselves from opinions that are different than their own will not help these students upon graduation. The real world is filled with diverse opinions, and they cannot censor the choices of the people around them.
Keep it to yourself
On most college campuses, the majority of the students are liberal, with a small majority being conservative or moderate. Already feeling ostracized, the outliers tend to keep their opinions to themselves, rarely speaking out. By being censored during the rare occasion that these students make their political stance known, they are effectively prevented from doing so again.
In the process of considering free speech as hate speech, many students seek to remove political memorabilia including Trump hats and banners on the grounds that it makes them feel unsafe as well as uncomfortable.
This politically motivated form of censorship was frequent in the weeks leading up the election and continued into the initial days after the final results.
The tension surrounding the 2016 election amongst the student population is a key indicator of the plight of freedom of expression on college campuses. Despite the MAGA banner itself being innocent the connotations behind it made students attempt to censor their peer. The MAGA banner was not the first shot fired in the war over what’s acceptable free speech, and it will certainly not be the last.