Fear of offense shouldn’t stop open discourse

Nowadays, college students can typically be described as easily offended. It is common for many students to be offended by things, such as words, actions, beliefs or differing opinions, and they are ready to let you know when they disagree with you.

Recently, the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles released the latest results from a survey it has conducted for 50 years, asking incoming college freshmen questions about worldviews and life. The survey poll included 141,189 full-time, first-year students from 200 private and public universities.

The results from the study concluded 71 percent of freshmen said, “colleges should prohibit racist/sexist speech on campus” and 43 percent of them said, “colleges have the right to ban extreme speakers from campus.” In addition, 8.5 percent said there was a very good chance they would be involved in a student demonstration on campus, which is nearly double the response from the 1960s.

However, every person seems to have a different opinion on what makes something racist, sexist or extreme.

Basically anything that is disputed these days seems to fit into one of those three catagories. While stopping hate speech and protests may have some merit, many students have an eagerness to shut down anything that may be deemed controversial or dangerous.

Instead of attempting to understand and empathize with others, many just feel it is more important to limit the speech itself. This is problematic because in an attempt to make the world a better place, students are adversely limiting free speech in college communities.

Each person has a different perspective, set of beliefs and worldview that all contribute to different opinions on what is extreme speech and what isn’t, so this new wave of immediately shutting others out who offer a countering opinion is absurd.

According to The Hill, a political newspaper in Washington, D.C., last year, even President Barack Obama took notice of this issue at a town hall meeting in Des Moines, Iowa. He said, “I’ve heard of some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative. Or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans, or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women.”

“I’ve got to tell you,” Obama added, “I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of views.”

The point of college is to become exposed to ideas different than yours and to be challenged in different ways. Receiving an education from books is only half of it; students should also keep open minds and be receptive to ideas and beliefs that challenge their own because they might just find that you can also receive an important education from your peers.