Students Protest Guest Speakers at College Campuses


Photo Credit: LA Times

Student led protest at UC Berkeley turns violent

Lauren Lafrades, Reporter

Berkeley, Middlebury, and Bethune-Cookman are just a few examples of universities involved in the current trend that is catching fire at colleges across the US. Student led protests against guest speakers at their respective college campuses has been a recent re-occurrence across the nation. The guest speakers are often ridiculed by students for their controversial beliefs. Speakers are often intimidated to the point that they are coerced into cancelling their speeches. But all these recent protests are starting to bring up the question of: Who’s maintaining the integrity of free speech?

Many students argue that allowing controversial speakers to share their message at college campuses is only perpetuating toxic ideologies. Students feel that providing a platform for these individuals shouldn’t be supported by universities; especially if the speakers beliefs don’t uphold the standards and philosophies of the campuses.

Students insist that the protests are just an outlet to voice their opinions and exercise the first amendment. The controversy arises when the protests turn into civil disobedience or the purpose behind the protest is flawed. At the University of California Berkeley campus, a demonstration against conservative political commentator, Ben Shapiro, led to 9 arrests, riots, and over half a million dollars spent due to the cost of security.

Students at Middlebury University in Vermont protested guest speaker Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist with the American Enterprise Institute. His speech was going to be about his 2012 book “Coming Apart”. A book examining the increasing division between rich and poor white Americans. Murray’s past work soon took the spotlight, as his 1994 book “The Bell Curve” became the focus of those protesting his speech. The book suggested that race may play a part in intelligence, and claimed that blacks do less well than whites on IQ tests. Although the speech Murray was scheduled to present had no intent of discussing “The Bell Curve”, students at Middlebury centered their protests primarily on the controversy of his early work.

Rae Aaron, a sophomore at Middlebury had an interesting view of the protest. “At some point, it turned into, not an argument of, ‘We should protest his ideas,’ but ‘We should protest his right to share his ideas.’” she said.

College campuses have long been a stage for a sharing new ideas and expanding one’s mind.  But what we’re starting to see is that college students may be becoming less tolerant to ideas that makes them uncomfortable or go against what they believe. The unwillingness to be exposed to controversial ideas may be a detriment to students in the long run.

“Safe Spaces”, or a place on college campuses where students won’t be exposed to topics that make them uncomfortable, are becoming more and more common. It’s under debate at colleges across the nation, whether of not these intellectual safe spaces should have a place of campuses, or if it’s more beneficial to students to be confronted with controversial ideas.

Our founding fathers agreed that freedom of speech is vital to a country valuing liberty. It seems as though the clarity of when the line between exercising  your own rights, in turn, takes away the freedom of speech of another. It used to seem as though college kids were the most eager  to expose themselves to various viewpoints and form their own opinions, but as headlines have shown, narrow mindedness may be the new norm. What’s up for question, is whether we support coddling, or controversy.