Opinion: More exposure to radical speech on campuses could be beneficial

Matt Poe

I’ve always subscribed to the idea that college and its campuses should act as a marketplace for ideas and thoughts. It’s the first time in one’s life where you’re truly exposed to thousands of people who come from all different backgrounds and where you first realize how different others are from yourself.

It’s one of the great experiences that a young person can attain during their time of undergrad: the exposure to thoughts, ideas and language that you cannot find anywhere else. Sometimes you’ll agree with these newfound messages you’ve encountered.

Other times you’ll beg for someone to shut the hell up and disagree wholeheartedly with whatever they’re saying.

As someone who comes from a pretty stereotypical white suburban background, you tend to view the world through that lens until you get to a place that is anything but. But to me, this idea of free flowing speech has been severely dwindled from the beginning of my time in college four years ago until now.

We can thank President Donald Trump for some of this over the last year or two, as his war on political correctness has brought a lot of offensive speech from the back burner to hot and ready on your plate. But to say he is the sole reason for this would be giving him far too much credit, as we know how incapable he is of getting much done.

I read a great piece in The Atlantic about the dangers of justifying speech as violence and what consequences those have on college students. Now, I’m obviously not defending hate speech (which isn’t protected by the First Amendment) or speech that would impose a blatant physical threat on somebody; but hear me out.

The essay describes, much better than I can, this idea of how harmful it can be for students who spark outrage or are emotionally hurt by speech that they do not agree with. And it can lead, or so the study says, to those same students justifying violence in a way they hadn’t before.

The perfect example in recent memory and one that the article uses is from Milo Yiannopoulos’ canceled speech back in February at UC Berkeley. Just the idea that a person like Yiannopoulos would speak to college students, who lest we forget is just another troll searching to get a rise out of people, caused so much outrage that it eventually led to $100,000 in damages at the university.

Granted, most of the violent confrontation was committed by a notorious anarchist group and not your average college student. But still.

People became so upset by the thought of his words. And the drive to flush out those words led to violent acts.

I was in Washington at the time of this (God, please send me back), and I admittedly was guilty of the same line of thought. I was outraged that a person like him would be able to speak at a university, and I was delighted when I found out the whole thing went down in a blaze of glory.  

Hindsight being 20/20, this notion goes completely against the marketplace of ideas that I mentioned before. And not only does it hurt that idea, it also hurts us.

While I’m not going to side with the whole “DURR, you got offended, liberal snowflake” BS that every moron nowadays defaults to, I do think us as young people are hurt when we justify not having someone speak or appear because we simply don’t agree with their message.

I’m not defending ignorant people who say things like “all Muslims are terrorists” or “gays are lesser people than their straight counterparts.” Those people can (unprintable phrase.)

We cannot have someone who threatens other groups outwardly and targets them because of race, gender, sexual orientation or anything like that because that truly is harmful to one’s emotional state and can lead to more problems.

But to simply refuse to listen to someone because you disagree with them only enforces the notion that you cannot properly cope with and analyze the world around you, a world that generally doesn’t care about your opinion in the first place. 

I can’t tell you how many of my left-leaning associates I met in Washington (does he ever shut up about that place?) who have broken friendships or business relationships with Republicans simply because they lean a different way on the political spectrum. Ditto to many of my friends at Kent State.

What benefit does that allow you to gain? Does that make you a stronger person?

The simple answer is of course it doesn’t. And it only makes college campuses (and the world in general) a far less productive place.

So much of this idea that speech is violent says everything about our political culture today: Everything is offensive, and if they’re not on our side, we cannot cooperate nor can we listen to them to air out differences and strengthen mutual agreements.

Instead, we turn off the receptors in our brain the moment someone reveals their political ideology to be different than our own.

But I assure you that you will be stronger mentally and far less upset if you can listen to someone like Milo or a dumbass classmate whom you couldn’t disagree with more without punching them in the face or running for the hills. 

Even if, let’s face it, some of them probably deserve it, but you’re smart and won’t give them the pleasure of doing so.   

Matt Poe is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].