The first amendment to the constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Freedom of speech is often a cudgel used to prevent others from criticism of one’s statements; however, no one seems to actually know what it means. Simply put, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.
Back in March, the Oklahoma State University chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity was permanently suspended after a video of a racist chant surfaced on the internet, according to The Huffington Post.
In the video, the white frat members were seen singing the words, “…you can hang him from a tree and he’ll never sign with me, there will never be a n***** SAE.”
University president David Soren commented that the behavior shown in the video created a hostile learning environment for all students on campus.
This is what it boils down to. The learning environment for all students on campus.
There’s been criticism about using “trigger warnings” and “micro-aggressions” on campus that are allegedly stifling freedom of speech. Micro-aggressions are not new. They are something that minorities have dealt with nearly every day of their lives.
By definition, micro-aggressions are subtle, offensive comments or actions directed at a minority group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.
To claim that calling out and/or intolerance to micro-aggressions on campuses stifles free speech, is not only wrong, but reinforces white, male, heterosexual patriarchy that has gone unchecked on college campuses for the past century.
The issue is not a loss of freedom of speech because that is not happening. The issue is people don’t like being called out on how they use free speech. It is not stifling free speech for minority students to expect to go to class and not be faced with racist, sexist or homophobic comments and aggressions.
According to Slate, students at Yale University protested the administration over accusations that the school cared more about free speech than safe spaces. This was after another year of racist, offensive Halloween costumes were seen worn on campus.
Every year on campuses across the country, minority students deal with white students who put on blackface, and dress up as caricatures of what they believe African-American, Asian or Hispanic students represent. Students act out stereotypically racist behavior of which they believe these groups participate.
This is more than simply an uncomfortable idea. This is hostility and aggression that minority students have to face when simply stepping onto their college campus or going to class to attempt to get an education.
Expecting the marginalized to be silent so that the privileged can comfortably spout harmful and offensive rhetoric is cowardly and antithetical to the values of a civilized society.
If college campuses should be open to discussing uncomfortable ideas, let those uncomfortable ideas be the fact that the history we’ve been taught up until this point has been severely white-washed.
Let the uncomfortable ideas be the fact that white students have been coddled throughout their K-12 education to believe that in 1920 all women won the right to vote, when the truth is that it was only white women, and black women have only had the right to vote for the last 50 years.
Let the uncomfortable ideas be the fact that while students have been taught that Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are feminist heroes, while the reality is that both were unapologetic racists who used racism to try and prevent the 15th amendment from passing.
Let the uncomfortable ideas be the fact that despite the civil rights movement in the 60s that white people today still profit and benefit from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and Jim Crow era institutionalized racism.
According to USA Today, Tim Wolfe, the president of the University of Missouri, stepped down on Monday amid protests, a hunger strike and protests of the football team.
His resignation was the result of students who’d finally had enough of attending a university where the president overlooked numerous incidents of racism on campus.
The fact is that students across the country have had enough of sitting silently and allowing the cudgel of “free speech” to further their marginalization and oppression at the hands of those in positions of power.
The protests at Mizzou and Yale University are not the beginning and will not be the end of this uprising. Students want everyone to be aware that they will no longer allow their campuses to be overrun with racism, sexism and violence under the guise of “free speech.”