Last week, Public Safety removed from the Quad a Free Speech Wall set up by AU Students for Liberty.
While Student Activities has apologized that no one was notified and that there was no due process involved in the removal of this pre-approved display, it has also been stated that they support the removal and would have done the same. Offensive and libelous content was cited.
We are now being asked to “staff” the wall if we put it back up and “guide discourse” to prevent this sort of thing. This is not the point of free speech.
I felt compelled to share a piece on political correctness.
The reason that Public Safety took the action they did, in my opinion, is partially due to the culture of political correctness and hostility to free speech that exists on this campus.
This is the line the administration sticks to and that students tend to accept. This is the standard that leads to the “destroy first, ask questions later” action taken by Public Safety.
Restrictive and stifling commitment to political correctness is dangerous and antithetical to freedom. Partially, because it leads to this sort of action. But also for the following reasons.
Political correctness is an issue that college students like to gripe about (at least when it affects them) but doesn’t seem to actually harm anyone. So what’s the trouble in being considerate of others?
Well, despite popular belief, and perhaps to the pleasant surprise of the inarticulate griper, I think there is a very real case to be made for the harms of political correctness. Especially when it is valued above other considerations or at the expense of other considerations of expression on campus.
We can clearly identify who is hurt when we are not politically correct. The loudly offended make it clearly known that their feelings have been injured by careless words. But who, exactly, benefits from this kind of speech? And who is hurt when it’s restricted?
As I mentioned, we all realize on some instinctual level that we are being restricted, and it is uncomfortable. That is, the claim that political correctness is an unchallengeable good cannot be true.
The issue is a fundamental one. Why should we speak our minds? Why should we not only allow but also invite discomfort at expressions and ideas?
I see two important facets being lost to discussions. One is the challenging and broadening of the collective understanding of correctness. The other is of addressing internal feelings, thoughts, biases and intentions and challenging these as well.
A culture of restriction, let alone a solid regulation against certain types of speech and expressions, conditions us not to speak our mind and to conform to popular opinion without challenging it. This means that whoever is setting the terms for what is correct and what isn’t (be it those in power, the majority or the loudest, most offended faction) has a monopoly on what is considered offensive.
In the interest of erring on the side of expression, we should avoid this outcome.
Part of the purpose of college life is to challenge what is accepted both in the main and by the individual. If we never say anything that offends anyone, how can we ever challenge those mainstream sensibilities?
I’m sure that the things a civil rights activist would say offended many in the Jim Crow South. Conversely, when an individual holds beliefs that we would hope would be challenged, keeping these to themselves prevents the issue ever being fully addressed. The silent racist is still racist. They just never have to hear the arguments against their views.
In the interest in challenging ourselves and our society, I think we must always err on the side of expression. Regimes of predetermined correctness and even particularly stifling cultures in the same vein prevent this from being the case and undermine our ability to learn and change.
AU Students for Liberty