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The thing about free speech is that you have to be willing to stand up for some real assholes out there to protect it. You have to be willing to affirm their right to say crass and terrible things, up to the point at which those things transmute themselves into real harm or violence against somebody else. These are the limits of free speech in America.
I am not in favor of protecting bigots that hide behind freedom of expression or some weak ass satire to say truly terrible and hateful things, and nobody that argues for openness on either side wants that—left or right. If some fucking moron wants to walk around in broad daylight flying a Nazi flag, they absolutely deserve to get curbstomped by Lt. Aldo Motherfucking Raine. But it is important to have a hospitable environment for unpopular opinions, because how else are you going to change somebody’s ideas other than treating the person with respect as a human and engaging them in productive civil discourse?
That said, God help you if you try to say or do anything unpopular at one of the schools I’m going to list below. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (a campus watchdog group for free speech on America) just released its 2018 annual rankings for the worst colleges for freedom of expression in the previous year. I picked a couple particularly juicy ones to highlight.
1. Harvard University
Let’s start with the obvious one—the “Big H.” Harvard made the news and the list for rescinding admission offersfrom students who shared offensive memes on an admitted students Facebook page, which is further proof that you should never, ever, go on those things.
Harvard rescinded offers of admission from 10 students for sharing joke images in a private group chat on Facebook. Had those students matriculated to Harvard, subjecting them to punishment would have been in violation of Harvard policy. But as the students had only been admitted, Harvard, under the cover of that technicality, deemed them unworthy of protection.
Granted, these memes were in extremely bad taste. One of them called a picture of a hanging Mexican child “piñata time.” Still, many high schoolers in the world have accidentally said plenty of incredibly offensive or stupid things because high schoolers are idiots and think the dumbest things are funny. They don’t deserve to have their entire futures pulled from underneath them for one mistake. The fact that this kind of an action would have been against Harvard policy for matriculated students makes it especially disappointing that they would punish these morons for what they did in the way Harvard did it.
2. Albion College (Albion, Michigan)
Here’s another example of somebody making a really bad joke and getting the brunt end of the Spanish Inquisition shoved up his ass:
In September, Albion College student Alex Tokie sent an email to his fellow College Republicans with a number of suggestions about debating “white privilege.” As a joke, he concluded his email by suggesting to his peers: “Take the liberal tears from the idiot you just destroyed in your debate, dissemble your American made Springfield M1911 .45 caliber handgun and apply the tears in order to clean the mechanism, reassemble and proceed to purchase ANTIFA and ISIS hunting permits and max out on tags[.]”
That email marked the beginning of an investigation that has spanned nearly six months.
See, if Alex had just limited that statement to ISIS, I don’t think anybody could have said anything. But since Antifa is a domestic group for the most part and not an organization our government is actively at war with, there was probably grounds to open what ended up being a long and drawn out investigation.
Please people, can we start just telling each other to stop being assholes without threatening them with expulsion, lawsuits, and insane judicial proceedings? Alex apparently had to sit through a FOUR HOUR hearing with campus administration OVER WINTER BREAK.
Jesus, there is a better way to handle this kind of thing.
3. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, New York)
The administration of RPI blocked a student group that was protesting their decision to take control of the formerly student-run Student Union from holding a protest.
After students peacefully demonstrated anyway, RPI brought charges against “leaders” of the demonstration — identified as “leaders” on the basis that they spoke to local television stations. One student was charged under a policy barring commercial solicitation for distributing a letter criticizing the administration. These charges were dropped only after months of criticism.
Damn. Granted I’m not the most informed on this particular situation, you don’t go around arresting people for holding a peaceful protest. That’s some Orwellian bullshit right there.
4. University of California, Berkeley
Berkley’s back at it again. After reports of a mob of students of color and LGBTQ students blocking white students from going to class last year, this time the legendary example of anti-war, nonviolent protest exploded into a very violent protest that involved setting fires and throwing Molotov cocktails.
On Feb. 1, 2017, the campus erupted into violence. Former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was set to speak and an estimated 1,500 people showed up to protest, some with the goal of shutting down the speech “by any means necessary.” Protesters set fires, hurled Molotov cocktails, and allegedly assaulted other members of the crowd. Their efforts were successful. The speech was canceled.
I’m torn about this one because I both a) despise Milo Yiannopoulos and b) absolutely love me a good riot, especially when Molotov cocktails are involved. But ultimately, you just can’t attack somebody you don’t like with a vigilante army and hurl explosives at them. That’s not the way living in an open, democratic society is supposed to work.
5. Evergreen State College
You guys probably all remember this one. A multicultural office associated with the university administration decided to flip the college’s annual “Day Of Absence” in which all students of color voluntarily stay home for the day to instead force all white students and faculty instead to be barred from campus for 24 hrs. One unsuspecting biology professor immediately pounced on the irony of this situation by pointing out that preventing white people from going to class and work is inherently oppressive and overtly segregationist. In response, the administration calmly acknowledged their mistake, and everybody went about their lives peacefully.
Oh wait, no. This happened:
Some weeks later, after the Day of Absence had passed, 50 students showed up outside Weinstein’s class. They shouted and chanted until he came out, accusing him of racism and demanding his resignation. They yelled over him when he tried to talk and blocked him when he tried to leave. Students then occupied the library, surrounding the college president’s office. They reportedly blocked entrances with furniture.
Weinstein and his wife, also a professor, were unable to return safely to campus and left their jobs; the school would end up paying a $500,000 settlement to the pair.
Happily, Bret Weinstein and his wife ended up pocketing enough money to buy a nice condo in Vail and got to meet Joe Rogan as a result of the experience, but I think all of us as a society were made poorer by it. Negative, radical PC culture can be honestly just as oppressive and batshit as full on right wing fascism in the way that any extreme of nearly any movement can be when completely unchecked.
Let’s hope that 2018 ends up being a much more level-headed, understanding, and forgiving year on college campuses. Sadly, I doubt it will be..