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WSJ’s Take On Self-Censorship On Campus


March 16, 2022

Editor’s note: In this Future View, students discuss self-censorship. Next week we’ll ask, “As gas prices rise and electrical prices soar, should we be turning to nuclear power? Is nuclear fission green?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before March 22. The best responses will be published that night.

Futile to Speak Out

Too many college classes foster ideological groupthink rather than the free exchange of ideas. It’s unfortunate that many students are afraid to share their opinions because they’re scared their peers may lash out at them. Yet this is also a rather normal part of teen and young-adult life: the desire for validation and the need to fit in among one’s peers. Extremely vocal, intolerant factions of students exist, but the truth is that many students are content to leave politics out of their social lives.

What’s more of a problem is the overt politics of university administrators and some professors. The adults in charge should be pushing their students to confront different ideas. Instead, many administrators attempt to comfort and shield students from exposure to differing points of view. This hinders a student’s critical thinking. Ironically, it also makes students less inclusive and empathetic. They grow certain that what they believe must be right, since this is what they’re being told by the adults in charge. Anyone who thinks differently must be crazy. The end result is that students who aren’t as progressive censor themselves—and not necessarily out of fear. Rather, students realize it would simply be futile to speak out in an institution that actively opposes their views as if it were an undebatable fact.

—Thomas Wolfson, University of Maryland, history and economics Unique Identities Depend on Fitting the Mold

I’m a freshman at the University of Chicago, a school second on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s ranking of campuses for greatest protection of free speech. The school is so committed to free speech that the Special Collections Research Center has a standing exhibit about censorship.

Yet even here, in one of the least hostile environments, I have to pause and consider quite carefully what I share with others. It’s not that I don’t believe in my ideas or the free exchange of them. I am capable of both challenging others and being challenged. But collegiate education now is less about ideas than it is about identities. Offering an idea that counters the narrative of identity invites blowback designed to shame, not educate. This isn’t to say that identity isn’t important or doesn’t require respect. I know that as a Latino student.

Our college system is based on the radical idea that people don’t have to fit into certain molds to be included or succeed. If today’s campus culture stifles that idea, we won’t see greater inclusion in higher education, corporate authority and government. Every freedom to be who one chooses can be traced back to the freedom to say what one thinks, the freedom of conscience. Without that there isn’t much real protection of identity at all.

—Teddy Torres, University of Chicago, undecided Disagreement Is Not Censorship

Thoughtful and respectful discourse is the foundation of higher education. Students are expected to grapple with texts and debate the merits of arguments, even when students do not agree with one another. Despite this, many students claim to feel rising censorship in the classroom.

What those students may be experiencing, however, is the opposite: their classmates’ exercise of free speech. If I raise a controversial point in a discussion, it is the obligation of my fellow students to debate this point respectfully. But there is no obligation for anyone to agree with what I say or for anyone to like me for saying it. Feeling a sense of embarrassment if my point is ill-received is not censorship, since no one is preventing me from voicing that opinion. That classmates disagree with me proves that my point has been received for debate—and thus not censored. I may not like their disagreement, but it is their right to do so, just as it is my right to introduce a controversial viewpoint.

If I choose not to voice my opinion again out of fear of backlash, that is my choice, not censorship. I cannot complain about a perceived lack of debate in the classroom if I am the one refusing to engage. Neither can I expect my classmates not to debate with me, for then they would be the ones self-censoring.

—Carolyn Breckel, Yale University, molecular biophysics (Ph.D.) I Keep It to Myself

Anyone who has dissenting opinions on such cultural issues as abortion, Covid or Israel knows that self-censorship is rampant on campus. One of my friends received a low grade on an essay about systemic racism in which he raised questions of lack of strong male role models and educational attainment. When he wrote the next essay with a liberal point of view and citations of liberal media source, he received a grade a full letter higher.

I’ve faced a lot of criticism and backlash by peers and faculty for being a black student with center-right views. I’ve been screamed at by peers on campus for defending capitalism and suggesting that high abortion rates harm the black community. I was called an Uncle Tom for questioning the effectiveness of the tactics of Black Lives Matter. My professors often assume that because of my ethnicity I must hold left-wing views on racial issues and have sought my opinion on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion initiatives. I often find myself staying silent and nodding along to avoid conflict with the people around me. I actually like many of these people, and to prevent losing friendship and relationships, I keep my true opinions to myself.

—Corey Walker, University of Michigan, history Self-Censorship Is Unfortunately Necessary

As an undergraduate attending a university in California, I have experienced college censorship. Almost every class I’ve taken has been tainted with liberal talking points from leftist professors who are not afraid to share their radical beliefs. When completing my assignments, I pretend to be a liberal in fear of receiving backlash and a bad grade.

It has even become a game to me. I can type out my liberal responses on a surface level, since they don’t take any critical-thinking skills anyway. All I have to do is include the word “racism,” and the assignment is good to go.

Being at such a woke school has also resulted in self-censoring of my views even with my closest friends. That I hold conservative values would get me cancelled by my peers. I am passionate about my conservative beliefs but don’t want to lose the friends I love because of them. While censoring my views has often made me feel I’m not being true to myself, I unfortunately feel it is necessary.

—Allie Simon, University of California San Diego, psychology

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