Please don't limit expression

Last week, Augustana had some problems with chalk on the quad. Students had written things such as “build the wall” and “feminism equals cancer”, and there was an uproar. Immediately, the administration was expected to do something.

In response to the chalkings, the college has decided to limit where people can express their opinions on the quad to the “free expression zone”. While this is something they can do, it isn’t something they should do.

Firstly, and most obviously, this doesn’t actually address the problem. While the space that people have to express opinions is more limited, they still have them. Censoring opinions doesn’t prevent people from having them.

More importantly, this is not how Augustana should deal with conflicting opinions. Even if people find things offensive, that doesn’t justify trying to silence them. Rather, if Augustana wants people to change their opinions, a better response is to encourage people to actually talk about these things.

This is something that Augustana (and other liberal colleges) are failing to do. We all hear about the cliché about “starting a dialog”, but when an opportunity to start a discussion appears, the campus seems to back away from it.

The fact is, truly productive dialogs are uncomfortable for everyone involved. People may occasionally say offensive things and there’s nothing you can do about it. “Starting a dialog” doesn’t mean “talk about how great and correct liberals are.” It’s about having arguments and understanding different perspectives.

Many colleges in the United States have become liberal echo-chambers, where people feel that they are constantly walking on eggshells. People who genuinely don’t mean to be offensive can find themselves quickly being deemed racist, phobic, or in some way intolerant.

When people become so eager to label others like this, they completely trash their ability to start a genuine discussion, and are rather trying to prove  how much more morally superior they are. Personally, I’ve seen a few  instances on campus where normal discussion actually devolved into arguments about “who is more racist” for no explicable reason.

All of this works to polarize people.

When students wrote “feminism equals cancer” on the quad, it doesn’t really matter if they believed that or not. It was more about making some noise and letting everyone know that they were frustrated, dismissed by a culture that over-reacts to anything it deems offensive.

This can be seen by our chalking situation. When offensive statements were made, the administration decided to limit expression and send out emails to everyone on campus, as though some crime had been committed.

It’s safe to say that most of campus agrees that what they said was stupid. But did it really need this level of response?

Our campus can foster a more inclusive community, and should, but it cannot do it through over-reaction and over-sensitivity. People need to be able to talk about things without feeling that they are going to be shamed for having an unpopular opinion.

Everyone can be wrong, regardless of how progressive they aim to be. It’s important to remember that someone saying something you don’t like doesn’t make them a monster. Maybe their statement was, but not them. Thats where real dialog comes in. If Augustana (and liberals) want to have a more inclusive community and a dialog, they need to accept that it’s not going to be easy.