A First Year Student’s Hopes for Open Discourse on Campus
My first few weeks at Wake Forest have come with many discoveries, but none have been more shocking than reading the free speech codes espoused by the University. In fact, the Foundation for Induvial Rights in Education (FIRE) has given Wake Forest the worst possible rating for openness and free speech on campus. As students embark on their academic journeys, starting classes and beginning to ponder sensitive topics, some may find their opinions to be eschewed and their discussions curtailed by arbitrary dogma.
A great deal of what drew me to Wake Forest University was the passion of the professors and the commitment to a mission of promoting personal and intellectual growth. Yet, one might be challenged to define intellectual growth absent the ability to grapple with often unsettling ideas and opinions. Ultimately, when the University administration grants itself the power to deem what is too offensive to be displayed in the public marketplace of ideas, they are infringing on the individual rights of each and every student; and ipso facto limiting our capacity as thinkers to engage with new ideas. If as a school and community of learning we are truly committed to diversity in all of its forms, then the only restrictions there should be on free speech should be the ones delineated in the Constitution.
Despite learning that the University has limits on free speech, my hopes for engaging in meaningful discussion have not waned. Below, I have listed a few of the ideals that I will attempt to strive towards in the next four years of my intellectual journey here, and I challenge every member of the Wake Forest University to pursue them without reservation.
Hear Each Other Out
Supreme Court Justice William Brennan once eloquently stated in his affirming opinion in Texas v. Johnson, “The Government may not prohibit the verbal or nonverbal expression of an idea merely because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable.” Logically, this responsibility extends to all citizens, especially those in higher education who are in the noble support of the truth. Even when we feel challenged or uncomfortable because of a Professor or student’s opinion, to reject them the opportunity to express their opinion is to deprive them of their basic rights.
Do Not Assume
Yes, I have only been here for three weeks; however, I have already learned a great deal about people around me. In the classroom, knee-jerk emotion has obstructed logical thought. It is wrong and frankly unfair to assign motives or ideas to any member of this community on any basis at all—whether it be race, class, religion, or any other discernible trait. Contriving opinions and judging people for anything other than the merits of their thoughts is intellectually irresponsible and stops important conversations from happening.
End Victim Complexes
This goes for people of all political affiliations, creeds, or anything else. There can be no dispute that certain groups in this country have faced inequity and inequality in the past and even the present, but recounting problems and expecting for one’s ideas to not be heard open-mindedly because they are, for example, conservative or a racial minority eliminates any possibility for consensus or understanding. Those of us who lament our inequities instead of working together to solve them are not just unproductive but perpetuate their current states of being.
With all things considered, regardless of a speech code that has little virtue, I am extremely excited to engage others in important discourse in college. Part of this engagement requires that we all hold ourselves to high standards as intellectuals and as people. In the spirit of these standards, I challenge each and every student to have conversations outside of their comfort zone, Professors to promote fair and stimulating spaces of learning that allow all opinions, and the administration to reconsider their current stance on free speech at Wake Forest University.