Discomfort is an inevitable part of life; it is also the catalyst for change. The recent protests on campus at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) have stirred up discussion regarding the role freedom of speech plays on a university campus.
The clashing of conservative and liberal viewpoints has prompted questions like, “What type of speech is okay?” and “What is the appropriate way to express that speech on campus?” For some, this was their first time experiencing a protest, and they may have felt uncomfortable hearing views they found to be abhorrent and contrary to their world view. This experience is good because a person exposed to a view they find uncomfortable helps that person grow.
The role of a university is to educate students, and one way to fulfill that role is by exposing students to a wide range of ideas and perspectives. On campus, there are as many political perspectives as there are students, and engaging with people who have different perspectives than you provides insight into another way of perceiving the world. Freedom of speech ensures a diversity of thought so that society does not become an echo chamber.
One of the purposes of protest is to bring attention to societal problems, that would not otherwise be addressed. In the 1960s, The University of California, Berkeley heavily restricted the activity of political student organizations on campus. Students who wanted to stop racial discrimination and the United States’ participation in the Vietnam War could not have those discussions with their campus peers. This culminated in the Free Speech Movement, which challenged the administration at Berkeley through protesting. Because of their efforts, universities remain spaces of open debate. If universities were to censor speech because some students disagree with the message, then the university would be undermining its duty to expose students to new ideas.
Dissenters may argue that having some views displayed and vocalized in public normalizes certain views and makes students feel unsafe; therefore, speech should be censored. However, total safety from what we don’t like cannot be guaranteed. We all have something that makes us uneasy, and when we walk out of our doors in the morning, we accept the possibility that something unpleasant may occur.
Free speech allows everyone to contribute to the conversation, and through interacting, people become better equipped to deal with difficult situations, and difficult people. Growth cannot occur if we shield ourselves from the world. A seed cannot bloom into a flower if it does not first break through the soil.