The First Amendment is very important.
It protects our freedom to say what we feel when we feel, believe what we want how we want, be where we would like to be when we want to be there and access any and all information that shapes our perceptions of the world.
“There needs to be a balance between the ever-important freedom of speech and student’s comfortability.”
The Western Front Editorial Board
Of these rights granted by the First Amendment, free speech particularly resonates within our campus environment. After all, students and faculty are here to learn, and the uninhibited contribution of thoughts, ideas and feelings is central to the our mission.
There is a sense that without this freedom, change would be limited, if not impossible.
Student clubs, the Associated Students and all other campus organizations are protected by the First Amendment. All of our student publications are part of this group and so are the various centers developed for student aid. Any motion to protest or support the ideas of others resides under the protective umbrella of this amendment, and we must not forget how much students love to protest, and rightfully so.
But the campus of Western has been seeing developments; the student’s expression for critical thinking has experienced conflict. Freedom of speech is becoming intertwined with complicated discussions revolving around the new and rather unexplored topics of inclusivity, safe spaces and microaggressions.
On our own campus we see extreme religous picketers in Red Square, demands voiced by the Student Assembly for Power and Liberation and the AS Review and The Western Front attempting to properly inform and represent this community.
Students have boarded a train headed toward a land they believe exists but have ever laid eyes on. It is in this hypothetical place that feelings are never hurt, happiness is not to be compromised and everyone senses that they are welcome, no matter what form they arrive as.
It is here that the rights granted by the First Amendment begin to contradict themselves. While looking for an environment that is comfortable for all, language has become restricted. In an attempt to give all voices a platform, more are silenced.
As a result of the trials and tribulations we all experience, we become emotionally fragile. The term “safe space” aims to shield students and faculty from any words or ideas that could result in them being uncomfortable. But isn’t this a fundamental part of living and learning? Should we be so cautious as to run from an ugly, but necessary, aspect of being human? Could we not all learn from these hard feelings?
“Student clubs, the Associated Students and all other campus organizations are protected by the First Amendment. All of our student publications are part of this group and so are the various centers developed for student aid.”
The Western Front Editorial Board
Surely, we all live with painful memories and deserve respect for the experiences that shape our person, but we ought not expect all of humanity to be responsible for those experiences. We must carry our burdens and do so with honor, not with the fear that at any moment someone will say something triggering.
Open communication is necessary in this process of sharing and understanding, while censorship of thoughts, words and ideas is not the answer. Attempts to create places where everyone feels safe are an impossible feat, but spaces where thoughts and feelings are able to flow freely are essential. The classroom environment doesn’t need to be transformed into a place where professors and students feel able to speak their minds because it is. It has been for centuries.
Some professors have begun to limit what they teach for fear of saying something that could be potentially offensive. They are hesitant to teach what they know or to provide perspective for the consumers — ahem, students — that find themselves in the world of academia.
“Increasingly, professors must ask themselves not just ‘What is the best way to teach this material?’ but also ‘Might the most sensitive student in the class take offense if I say this, and then post it online and then ruin my career?” writes Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist and professor at New York University, in his September 2015 article in The Atlantic titled, “The Backstory to ‘The Coddling of the American Mind.’”
And if our professors feel inhibited to express themselves, how can students expect to feel any sort of personal liberation? There needs to be a balance between the ever-important freedom of speech and student’s comfortability. It is not a matter of protection but a matter of each person taking responsibility for their thoughts, feelings and experiences and moving forward with the vision of a better future for both themselves and those around them. We shall not be bashful, for it leads down a lonely road of hard feelings. Inspiration is the foundation of change, and when was the last time you felt inspired by repression?
Editors note: In the printed version of this article, it stated: “There are noteworthy exceptions to these freedoms, of course. Offensive speech is not protected, neither are false statements of fact or obscene materials. And that makes sense.” The Western Editorial staff would like to correct this incorrect statement by affirming that offensive speech is indeed protected by the First Amendment.