Last month, a man was charged with simple assault in front of Lisner Auditorium for allegedly punching a member of a Canadian right wing media outlet who was filming an anti-fascist demonstration. But this was not an isolated incident of violence against conservatives on college campuses.
At several colleges across the country, violence has broken out in response to people who hold right-wing views. In February, violent protests at the University of California, Berkeley halted a speech by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos and last month, a speech by conservative commentator Ann Coulter was canceled due to threats of violence and a fear for her safety. Ironically, she had been invited to speak at a bipartisan event meant to foster civil discussion about different viewpoints.
Students should not use violence to voice their disagreements. Violence inhibits discourse on important issues and often harms the perpetrator’s cause rather than helping it. Instead, students should engage in a discussion on the issues and use their words to prove that their viewpoint is the right one.
Students should not use violence to voice their disagreements.
Freedom of speech is one of our most precious rights. Without it, we wouldn’t be exposed to different points of view, and our opinions would never change. College campuses can often be “liberal bubbles.” Conservative voices offer an opportunity to break the echo chamber that occurs when no one is forced to reflect on or defend their beliefs. Being exposed to new ideas allows us to make up our own mind about the issues instead of reaffirming what the majority preaches. Whether or not we agree with someone is unrelated to their right to voice their opinions. Despite how emotionally invested you might be in the topic, violence should not be the answer. Another example of this violence occurred when conservative author Charles Murray left a speaking event at Middlebury College this year and masked demonstrators climbed and pounded on his vehicle while blocking the exit. When liberals use violence to stop those they don’t agree with from speaking, they only reinforce the stereotype held by conservatives that they are not as open-minded as they pretend to be.
Violence often has the opposite effect than intended. Instead of shutting down the opposition, it helps them gain support. Free speech supporters have been siding with the conservatives whose speech has been limited on college campuses and are turning away from the liberals who have used violence or threats of violence against speakers. Both forcing political correctness on college campuses and shaming conservatives have been cited as reasons why President Donald Trump won the recent election. Conservatives have also used violence against those they disagree with, but typically not on these liberal college campuses where they’re in the minority.
Free speech is an important part of democracy and should not be restricted by fear of violence on college campuses.
Instead of violence, students should use the dialogue they disagree with as an opportunity to offer countering ideas through speech or writing. Students should force the speaker to back up what they’re saying with evidence and challenge them to prove that their ideas are better than what the majority subscribes to, both in the classroom and at campus events. Ultimately, we can never force someone to agree with us, but if students are able to see both sides to an argument with open minds, then they will be equipped to make informed decisions and perhaps even change their minds.
Free speech is an important part of democracy and should not be restricted by fear of violence on college campuses. Listening to opposing viewpoints can provide insight into how the other side thinks, change minds about an issue or allow someone to strengthen their own opinion by enabling them to provide a more powerful counterargument. Although the incident at GW was minor in comparison to those at other colleges, it is important that students are aware of this issue now in order to prevent future incidents. Fighting does not yield results. Using violence to limit free speech only escalates tensions, and the ones who restrict speech tend to be the ones to lose support.
Kelly Skinner, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.