College Free Speech in the US

Is Free Speech Really Free?

The number of students demanding protection from distasteful ideas is growing yearly. Some students complain that both racist and oppressive words are being vocalized within their universities. For example, the State Department was required to ban words such as “Islamist”, “jihad” and “caliphate from the panel. Such words were flagged, because they are thought to be anti-Muslim or even Islamophobic in nature (Kaminer,2015). As a Muslim, I can agree that these words are highly offensive, although many American’s may not notice.

These students want limitations on speech in order to have safe spaces free of hate or prejudice. According to Shulevitz, a “safe space” is defined as follows: “Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being “bombarded” by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints. Think of the safe space as the live action version of the better known trigger warning, a notice put on top of a syllabus or an assigned reading to alert students to the presence of potentially disturbing material” (Shulevitz, page 1,2017).

Freedom of speech isn’t really free when it is at the expense of other student’s emotions and well-being. Universities should monitor what is being said because all individuals should feel safe when trying to obtain an education.

A number of studies have shown that so-called safe space and trigger warnings go a long way toward calming students’ fears and creating a hospitable learning environment. For example, some students that had a history of rape from Brown University found their safe space amongst other victims of rape.

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Unlike the previous debate at this University, that was amongst victims of rape as well as individuals who have no experience, which caused intense emotional disturbances, misunderstandings, and feelings of being attacked. While this “unsafe” debate took place, the alternative and “safe” discussions with survivors occurred simultaneously. Thus, allowing the victims of rape to engage with trusting individuals who have undergone the same horrific experiences as them. This experience revealed that rape victims felt they could trust others who have undergone similar situations as them, while also feeling they would not be attacked, which was a huge relief (Kaminer, 2015). This example showcases how warnings as well as alternative safe spaces can significantly help students undergoing Psychological trauma. Many rape victims already have some degree of guilt despite their innocence in these perverted acts, they do not need added forces from individuals who have no idea what the experience is like adding to their guilt.

As a result, such individuals are not arguing or bringing opposition just to do so. Rather they want to feel safe and not be reminded of whatever psychological disturbances are inflicting them. America’s loyalty to the first amendment has gone to far when it allows emotional and prejudice to occur. This is not what the founders of American had intended the amendment to do. There are various laws that exterminate the use of physical abuse within its quadrants of the United States, but what about mental abuse? Mental abuse is often disregarded and can be summed up by the phrase “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”, which any logical person can conclude is drastically incorrect (Rosenbaum, 2014). Many Psychologists have done research regarding physical abuse and verbal abuse, concluding that verbal abuse is much worse for various reasons. According to Winch:” Memories trigger emotional pain but not physical pain. Recalling the time, you broke your leg will not make your leg hurt but recalling the time you felt rejected by your high-school crush will cause you substantial emotional pain. Our ability to evoke emotional pain by merely remembering distressing events is profound and stands in stark contrast to our total inability (thankfully) to re experience physical pain (Winch, page 1, 2014). I’m all for freedom of speech, however, I am not for the slandering and hurtfulness that comes along with deliberately speaking in hopes of harming another person’s well-being. As Winch proclaimed, verbal abuse is in fact more dangerous when compared to physical abuse.

The best ways for colleges to deal with this problem is to create safer atmospheres for individuals to learn in. This includes that condemning of intolerance and discrimination inside the Universities (American Association of University Professors, n.d.). As Shulevitz claimed there is a difference between racist speech and discussion of racist speech. Individuals must understand the difference of the two. However, teachers must also play their parts in helping students learn such differences. I feel the best way to combat such issues would be to enact stricter punishments for verbal abuse. By doing so, individuals will see the consequences and be less likely to speak before they think. An issue that has been going on for centuries. Although, students do deserve an opinion, as Posner said students are less like adults and more like children. And to that I agree, they do need protection (Posner, 2015).

Free speech advocated, however argue that the first amendment gives us the opportunity to say whatever we want. Although, this may be true, the first amendment was written by “white propertied men in the 18th century” (Stern, page 1, 2014). What this means is that there may be some bias within this amendment. That is, when logically thinking, white men are the least likely to receive verbal abuse all throughout history. This amendment, one way or another, really has no influence on such individuals, therefore, its creation would have little to no affect on them. As many college campus fight to become more diverse, such considerations of censoring of speech are increasing significantly (American Association of University Professors, n.d.). If we want these individuals to feel safe and receive a quality education, we must override the first amendment. Although, to some degree everyone deserves to have their opinions on certain things, it is not always a good idea to vocalize them. One example to prove this point was given by Rosenbaum. He stated that in a movie theatre, although one has the capacity to falsely scream “fire” it is not suggested (Rosenbaum,2014). Although we do have the right to freedom of speech, we do not have the right to criticize or abuse others.

Although this may be true, as I suggested above, we do not need to vocalize all of our beliefs. Many of us are capable of keeping certain ideas in. For instance, when one’s wife asks if the dress makes her look fat, even if it does, the husband must never say that. This exemplifies how even though we have a belief, we withhold that belief in order to not hurt someone’s feelings. I am a firm believer that one should be able to express and vocalize their political views, religious beliefs, and other similar notions, but without judgment or hate. Being an international student has opened me up to a plethora of hate. Much of which was experienced within the University. Such incidents have made it extremely hard to study, because I constantly worry about what others are saying about me and my religion. However, I have learned to somewhat muffle it out, however, nonetheless, I should not be victimized because individuals feel that the right amendment allows for such.

For this reason, it should make sense to limit what is and isn’t allowed to be said on campuses. I am only one case of the many of individuals who have been harmed by the first amendments right. Universities want to be more diverse but are doing very little to help harness safe spaces for students coming from a variety of countries throughout the world. By enacting stricter rules on speech within universities, students will have a more equal chance to learn and be successful.

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College Free Speech in the US. (2021, Dec 17). Retrieved from

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