Over the last few years, the emergence of political correctness has made free speech a controversial topic in higher education. Per the Oxford Dictionary, political correctness (PC) is the “avoidance” of “expression or action” that is offensive to “socially disadvantaged” or “discriminated” groups. Some students are abusing PC to limit others’ rights to free, uninterrupted speech through deliberate physical and verbal interference at campus events. Just last week, an event titled “Students and the First Amendment” at William & Mary College was disrupted by students in Black Lives Matter. This extreme behavior has occurred with greater frequency in recent times at universities.
PC has become a tool through which voices are silenced by proponents when these voices are perceived as insensitive to minorities’ viewpoints. PC extremists can be students with extremely sensitive ideologies or far-left organizations that exploit public spaces to achieve their ends. These extremists believe they can obstruct speech, even though neither the Constitution nor the Supreme court clarifies that “offensive” speech is forbidden. In this regard, the use of PC to hamper free speech is contrary to American democratic values.
Those who espouse PC often misinterpret the purpose of free speech on college campuses. Free speech does not imply an agreement with ideas upon listening. Rather, free speech is meant for people to hear different ideas, think about those ideas critically, and pursue dialogue should they disagree. Liberal arts colleges intend to foster the diversity of ideas— including uncomfortable ones. So, if political correctness hardliners do not stand for intellectual diversity, there is no reason for their unproductive and disrespectful actions to be allowed on campuses like Benedictine University.
Some universities, such as the University of Chicago, have responded to the extreme exercise of PC by clearly outlining their acceptance of free speech. Now is also the time for Benedictine University to address free speech. Two weeks ago, The Candor published an article that requested Benedictine University to issue an official statement that supports free speech. This request also calls for additional language in the statement that explicitly condemns PC as a means of violating open academic discourse.
If you would like to follow-up with the writer with any comments about this article, you may reach him by email at Omair_Ali@ben.edu