Recently, I gave a presentation that afforded me the opportunity to ponder the connection between some hot-button free speech topics: campus speaker disruptions, the arrests of two University of Connecticut students for using the n-word, and laws mandating that employers respect people’s preferred pronouns and titles. What follows is my current thinking on these topics and their relationship to each other.
More so than in the past, younger generations have the view that civilly listening to certain types of speakers inappropriately gives these speakers a platform to perpetuate their harmful agendas. The idea is that neutrality perpetuates the status quo, so champions of social and legal equality do not want to be bystanders to anyone whose views, if taken to the extreme, lead to genocide. This is not a particularly nuanced approach, given that extreme views are then attributed to those who would never endorse them. However, the approach is not entirely unreasonable, given our current cultural moment.
The problem is that these views are quite harmful to the free exchange of ideas and academic freedom – principles that are generally applicable and focus on process, not the identity of beneficiaries of particular policies, while also doing a significant amount to advance social and legal equality.