From violent protestors heckling speakers to restrictive speech codes and trigger warnings, it’s never been a more challenging time to express an unpopular opinion on campus. According to recent studies by both the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Knight Foundation, more than half of all college students have stopped themselves from sharing an idea or opinion in class and almost a third have self-censored in class because they thought their words might be considered offensive to their peers.
It’s not surprising that students feel this way. In recent years, colleges have adopted various policies – including speech codes, “safe spaces,” and “free speech zones” – with the goal of shutting down unwanted speech. The message is clear: students with unconventional ideas should shut up and keep their opinions to themselves.
Censoring speech infringes the rights of students to express their opinions on campus. Just as important, it harms the rights of other students to listen to the speech – to challenge, debate, and learn from the views of their fellow students.
Unfortunately, when students’ speech rights on campus are violated, it’s tough to fight back. A lone student doesn’t stand a chance against a school with a huge endowment and an army of lawyers. It’s like David versus Goliath – and students feel powerless.