The biggest disservice that universities in America are doing to our young people these days is letting them believe they never have to hear ideas they don't agree with.
"On campuses across the country, hostility toward unpopular ideas has become so irrational that many students, and some faculty members, now openly oppose freedom of speech," writes Harvey Silverglate in the Wall Street Journal. "The hypersensitive consider the mere discussion of the topic of censorship to be potentially traumatic. Those who try to protect academic freedom and the ability of the academy to discuss the world as it is are swimming against the current. In such an atmosphere, liberal-arts education can't survive."
He cites a recent seminar at Smith College, in which a defender of free speech "emerged from the discussion of free speech labeled a racist — for defending free speech."
The seminar was titled "Challenging the Ideological Echo Chamber: Free Speech, Civil Discourse and the Liberal Arts." One panelist was Wendy Kaminer, an attorney and a Smith alum.
Ms. Kaminer, a former ACLU board member, warned students against rejecting ideas because of faddish political correctness. She specifically pointed to the American classic, "Huckleberry Finn."
Smith College student Jordan Houston took to the Huffington Post to claim that Kaminer — whose liberal credentials are impeccable — had committed an "act of racial violence."
Ms. Houston reported, "Sparking a debate over the moral use of the infamous ‘n-word' and all of its destructive powers, Kaminer proceeded to say the word multiple times uncensored during her claim that ‘there is no such thing as free speech in a regime that has restrictions on hate speech She carried on even further to exclaim that ‘nothing horrible happened' as a result of her word choice — not once did (Smith) President (Kathleen) McCartney step in to intervene."
She went on the claim, "In the enlightening response from our representatives of color, they reminded us that the use of any racial slur in itself is an act of violence. Even more importantly, when used by a white person it establishes a hierarchy that represents the racist ideologies embedded into our social structures."
And when the Smith College newspaper posted a transcript of the seminar, it was preceded by a "trigger" warning: "Trigger/Content Warnings: Rac-ism/racial slurs, ableist slurs, anti-Semitic language, anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language, anti-immigrant language, sexist/misogynistic slurs, references to race-based violence."
The problem here is that universities are supposed to be about challenging our young people, not sheltering them from anything that might offend them. Ms. Kaminer herself had the most lucid response to objections to her words.
"I think it's incredibly important to recognize that difference, because, you know, there are other words and other concepts that are going to make somebody feel threatened and somebody feel disrespected, and somebody feel psychologically unsafe," she said. "And if people can't learn to deal with those feelings they really can't function effectively in a free society."
Shielding young people from ideas they don't agree with isn't education. It is, in fact, a sad form of indoctrination.