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Don’t Silence My Right

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“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” was said by Martin Luther King Jr., and holds true today. The right to free speech is more than a right, it is also a privilege. We live in a society where free speech is used savagely and at times loses its meaning due to how it is expressed. Nonetheless, it’s an integral part of what makes America, America. Freedom of Speech should not be restricted on college campuses as it allows students to express themselves in a diverse environment, learn how debate their feelings and opinions in a respectful manner, and expand their understanding of others perspectives. Having a place to freely express yourself is important. College campuses are a good place to get students ready for the real world, where things often times will not always go their way. It’s a place that exposes them to multiple viewpoints, opinions and beliefs, that likely will not match their own. As Janet Napolitano, President of University of California stated, the goal of a university should be to “prepare students who are thoughtful, well informed and resilient. The world needs more critical, creative thinkers. (Rottenberg). One of the most diverse places you will find is that of a college campus. More than just different genders and race exist, but also differences in politics, religion, age and socio economic statuses. Standing in any one spot on campus you could look around and be certain to see someone similar to you, but also someone completely different from you. Student have said that they feel in favor of “an open learning environment that allows all types of speech on campus” (KERR). This is not only helpful for them to learn to express themselves but it also helps them to be able to handle a difference of opinion. If all of your time is spent around people with similar views, your horizons will never broaden. You will then conclude your life with a narrow view of what life could really be. The diversity on campus allows not only expression for yourself, but also allow you to challenge your thinking outside your comfort zone. According to Andrew Cohen, “In the college environment, the real harm is caused when students are not challenged” (Cohen). Being challenged helps to enhance students learning and enables them to think outside of their own beliefs. Additionally, it helps to ensure students have a growth mindset. Without a growth mindset students may never be willing to take risks and without risk there is no gain. Students may have to try something multiple times, over and over, before the success they are seeking is found. Becoming okay with challenging yourself is a skill that is beneficial to the society as a whole to help students to become better critical thinkers. Equally as important as feeling safe to express yourself is learning to debate respectfully. So much more can be said if you are aware of how you are saying it. Often times it isn’t the words you say that are offensive so much as the way you are saying them. Having the freedom to debate on campus teaches you how to be ready for difficult situations. In addition to arguing your side, you will better understand others’ perspectives by having healthy debate. “College students expand their horizons and learn to use their minds in new and more analytical ways when we expose them to problems they may not have yet considered” (Cohen). For many, we are raised around like minded individuals, who all think and feel the same way. Only once you are challenged to think outside your box, will your mind start to grow. Up until then, you may be completely unaware of the other viewpoints that exist. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, they believe that a Universities mission should be to “facilitate learning through open debate and study to enlighten,” (Rottenberg). This does more for a student than teach them to argue, it gives them the experience of speaking at times in front of large crowds or even working with others on a team toward the same goal with the same outcome. By putting yourself into position to debate, you have also learned to research your beliefs and make sure what you are fighting for is worth the fight. Learning to debate, be it respectfully, doesn’t mean you will always be comfortable. To the contrary, debate, when done appropriately, should push you to your limits. “If you went to college and were never made to feel uncomfortable by what you were hearing, you were denied one of the most valuable parts of the experience, the opportunity to have your beliefs challenged” (Neil). Only once your beliefs are challenged will you learn to really think about what is important to you, and learn to take a stance for what you believe in. By thinking of all possible angles of a situation you will be given the opportunity to be prepared for others who may be challenging your stance. One will learn to use reasoning and research to make a more sound argument. If everyone shared the same view, the world would be a very boring place. Freedom of speech is “constantly being adjusted as social values change and new cases testing those limits emerge,” (Rottenberg). Free speech is more than just getting your point across, and your perspective heard. It’s learning to have an open mind, and see things from another’s perspective. On topics such as what to have for lunch, or what kind of car to drive, this might not seem so hard to do. But as issues get more heated, and topics start to hit closer to home for some, the problems start to arise. This can be seen while watching the news or even a political debate. At these debates, it is not uncommon to see or hear those protesting the speaker’s stance, yelling out or trying to silence the speaker. It leads me to wonder if the protester has actually researched their stance, or if they are simply fighting out of ignorance and or rudeness. “The more difficult issues arise when students seek to shut down speakers or attempt to prevent them from appearing at all,” (Rottenberg). People want everyone else to abe respectful and listen to what they think, but they in turn don’t want to show that same respect and listen to others. It’s not always trying to shut them down, sometimes, they speak over them, talk louder or try to steal the audience. This causes anger and anxiety, and before long all hell breaks loose and you are no longer defending your position on what you stand for, but arguing over not being listened to. At that point, healthy debate is over. Students need to learn how to listen to others, nut just believe their way is the only way. Becoming a well rounded, contributing member of society, means thinking of someone other than yourself. It’s knowing what you stand for, but acknowledging that others may feel differently, and understanding that is their right to do so. One of the most positive aspects of being in a healthy relationship, is being able to understand another’s point of view. Being able to not only listen to others, but having the capacity to try and understand, shows an appreciation of someone else. “College and University personnel have the obligation to help all students learn and maintain this respect for others if a civilized society is to endure,” (TRAVIS/SCOTT). If one cannot see that our differences are what helps to make the world go round, then society as we know it is in bad shape. If people could learn to do more than listen, if they actually hear what is being said, and then try to understand, the world would be a much better place. It’s not easy. Learning to stand up for yourself while not denying others that same right is a hard thing to learn. It’s important to learn it young, as you will have many, many years to utilize it. Although you don’t think about it when you are young, this skill, once learned, can be used for all of your future employment opportunities, potential future relationships and also in raising your children. You never know what types of people you will encounter in your future, and being ready to listen and speak maturely will definitely come in handy. Being able to express yourself amongst a diverse crowd or population, debating respectfully while still getting your point across, and being able to put yourself into the shoes of another are all things we should learn. Only once we have learned to see things from other possible angles are we fully going to grow into the human beings we are meant to be. This information, once learned, can be shared with our children, our children’s children, and so on. It can be passed down from generation to generation, and the knowledge never gets old. It’s good people skills, and good people are constantly in need.

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