Why is it that when it comes to the social world, not all speech is deemed equally worthy of protecting? That is a question that has been dogging me of late, as I listen to commentator after commentator caution student protestors about the importance of respecting freedom of speech and the trap of political correctness.
"It's important that campuses be havens of maximum comfort for students to explore their own deeply important, personal, and self-actualizing ideas, free from the unpleasant psychic residue and general ickiness of people and events of the past," said Harlan P. Wentwich, President of Sniveling Worm University.
From California to Missouri to New York, structural oppression exists in every educational institution across the United States. It cannot be placed on a handful of people making prejudiced comments or simply pinned on outwardly racist, sexist, classist or homophobic actions. Systematic oppression is reflected in both the explicit actions of some and the implicit actions of many.
To be part of the change, to be part of history being undone and refashioned. To feel something I'd never felt in England. It has been building for some time now, though I'll admit I might have lost sight of it at times. But there is no denying its presence now. Sooner or later, everything must fall.
As I asked that student in 1986, I ask you now, Chancellor Syverud: Why are you here? I am really trying to understand. And I know, because I read in their deep, critical descriptions of what it is like to be heard on this campus, that the students who are THE General Body want to know this as well.
The natural evolution of Western democratic societies could be summed up this way: The first step is to develop the economy and the educational system. The second step is the establishment of a general culture for the citizens and the rule of law. The last step is democratization. If the above order is out of place, a society has to pay a severely heavy price.
We must listen to all students, regardless of what they look like, their ethnicity, or their sociocultural backgrounds. They remind us of why we are lifelong learners. Meaningful dissent can be the foundation for meaningful change. If we want problem solvers in our society, then we must let all students consider (openly) when things are and are not working.