Student Spotlight: Rikki Schlott

COURAGE IS CONTAGIOUS: CLAIM YOUR PLACE IN HISTORY

“We’re a part of an inconceivably small fraction of people to ever be afforded individual autonomy, personal freedom, and the right to free expression. As soon as you realize just how profound that is, it becomes virtually impossible not to champion and defend those values.”

Rikki Schlott
Columbia University
Majors: History

What challenges do you think are unique to Gen Z when it comes to free speech?

Gen Z has come up in an age where many of our institutions, especially educational ones, have lost touch with the values of free inquiry, pluralism, and constructive disagreement. Unfortunately, those of us who do champion free speech often find ourselves going against the generational grain.

As civics education withers, our generation has missed out on critical lessons about productive citizenship, and the burden is on us if we choose to reclaim and live by those values. Sadly, many of us haven’t risen to the occasion.

As politics and society grow more and more polarized, what can colleges do to foster open dialogue and viewpoint diversity in the classroom?

There are two very simple solutions that come to my mind:

First, new student orientation is the perfect opportunity to lay the groundwork for productive debate and open conversation on campus. Administrators absolutely should reinforce free speech principles and set out the general rule that you can and should disagree with those around you, but you can’t seek to restrict their voices. 

Second, colleges and universities absolutely should adopt the Chicago principles and reaffirm their commitment to free speech. It’s a great, nonpartisan way to send a message to all community members that their voices will be valued and never stifled.

Gen Zers have lived most of their lives on social media. Should they be concerned about getting “canceled” for voicing their opinions online?

Yes, this is definitely a valid concern—it happens all the time. My best advice is to be true to yourself but also to be selective about what you post. You absolutely can and should use social media to express your beliefs if you so choose, but its permanence is something that should be taken seriously. It’s just the unfortunate truth.

As a contributor to several media outlets and a prominent podcast, you are certainly not afraid to voice your opinions. What advice do you have for college students who feel intimidated or nervous on campus to share their true political or ideological opinions?

In order for students to stand up to chilled speech, we are going to have to release the

I started writing for the New York Post while at NYU, and I expected the worst when I first spoke out. Of course, there are people who have taken issue with me, but I was so pleasantly surprised to see many more people come out of the woodwork in support of me—students, professors, and acquaintances alike.

It’s important to remember courage is contagious, and that there’s strength in numbers. If you’re true to yourself, I’m confident you’ll find new connections and unexpected support on campus.

As a student of history, why is it important to teach and reinforce the importance of constitutional rights such as free speech?

When you study a broad enough body of history, you realize just how profound your position in humanity’s story really is. We’re a part of an inconceivably small fraction of people to ever be afforded individual autonomy, personal freedom, and the right to free expression. As soon as you realize just how profound that is, it becomes virtually impossible not to champion and defend those values.

Unfortunately, our education system is failing to help students contextualize their place in history. It’s no wonder they’re drifting from these principles. After all, how can you exercise and fight to protect a right if you don’t understand it in the first place?

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