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Editorial From The Daily Progress


March 12, 2022

I keep looking for a response from the UVa administration on Ms. Camp's essay in the NYT. As the saying goes. "the silence is deafening."

Absent finding, one, I did find this editorial in the Daily Progress.

An email received Monday night from the frustrated mom of a local high school student summed up the state of discourse in this country. “I wrote to you [on] 2/27 regarding coverage of national merit finalists at each of our county’s high schools,” she said. “Why are you so afraid to cover academic success in [Albemarle County Public Schools]?”

The notion that The Daily Progress fears reporting achievements in the Albemarle schools is absurd. But the accusatory nature of the email points to the anger and distrust that now drives U.S. culture.

Our current national outpouring of ugliness now curtails debates on university campuses, according to a recent New York Times column by University of Virginia senior Emma Camp. Basically, she said she and some other students are afraid to say what they think for fear of being attacked or ostracized in social settings and on social media.

It is hard to say how widespread this problem is. It is even harder to point to a solution.

Like all universities, UVa believes in the expression of student ideas and debate as a critical piece of the university’s mission. Almost all schools make clear that they expect students to be polite and respectful to each other. What they cannot dictate, much less enforce, is an edict that each student accept what others have to say. Most importantly, university administrators can only instill principles in students. They cannot dictate the tenor of America.

As a country, we are responsible for the culture we create. We are not talking here about so-called “cancel culture,” a trope thrown around too frequently by people who are allowed to speak, but who find too few supporters of their viewpoints. The culture at play here is one overflowing with lies and misinformation trafficked with technology that facilitates anger, cyber bullying, trolling, and anonymous character assassination.

Free speech demands tolerance. It does not mandate an audience for the distribution of lies on university campuses. And free speech has never required others—on campus or off—to passively accept what somebody else says or does. If what self-censoring students really want is affirmation in order to be totally honest, they face disappointment. Our best case scenario as a nation is that we peacefully and respectfully agree to disagree. Even this has become difficult in present-day society, including university campuses, for several reasons.

The first reason is the example set by leaders. It includes lying without shame or consequences. The social media posts of certain members of Congress set a standard for prevarication, rudeness and contempt aped by the greater society. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker documented more than 30,000 lies told by Donald Trump during his presidency. The biggest lie, of course, is that election fraud cost him reelection. Bring that to your dorm bull session or your classroom discussion, and you are likely to get some pushback and lose some Facebook friends.

The second reason that Camp and company may remain intimidated is that social media and internet sourcing make distinguishing fact from fiction difficult. And as we said, free speech guarantees no audience for lies. Those who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 were traitors, not patriots. Arsonists and looters who burned and stole during protests of George Floyd’s killing were felons, not revolutionaries.

Normalizing lies empowers liars to keep talking. But it simultaneously destroys the trust of others.

Tyranny of the majority could be another reason for university students’ reticence. Professors who don’t demand courtesy and civility in classroom discussions aren’t doing their jobs. Here is simple advice from a syllabus from George Washington University: “Classmates are entitled to your attention and your respect. Discuss with passion, not personal attacks.”

There is, however, a caveat: Provocateurs fighting what they call “political correctness” with contrarian stands are not entitled to special treatment.

This leads to the last reason that students may find themselves afraid to speak their minds: mutually exclusive goals. The middle ground between people who demand individual reproductive rights for women and those who want to entirely outlaw abortions does not exist.

So don’t be afraid to speak your mind. Just accept the fact that others will speak theirs.

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