The issue of censorship and freedom of speech is becoming very relevant for young people studying in universities. The new generation, the so-called Generation Z, the Zoomers, has been heavily influenced by social media. Social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) have formed a new communication model in their habits and have demonstrated what precisely the space for expressing different opinions can be. That is why they are so sensitive to free speech issues and the resulting consequences. Modern students know what a cancellation culture is and how it works. They seek to bring this culture into the universities, which is entirely contrary to the original meanings of higher education. This education should prepare students for real life, not protect them like children and teenagers. Professors in universities do not deal with fragile minds but with individuals whose views are formed and whose arguments are verified and supported by examples and precise logic. The modern problem of freedom of speech in universities is associated with opposition to the requirements for respect and care, which repeatedly gives rise to violent conflicts.
Care and Attention
Some students and researchers believe that universities should provide safe spaces for discussing complex issues. In universities, cases of violence, cruelty, origin, slavery, and other challenging topics are often raised. Some students, especially trauma survivors, need careful support as part of these discussions. It will allow them not to experience trauma repeatedly when discussing a topic or seeing people who often bring up such issues. The human psyche is so arranged that the trigger acts split second, and the consequences can remain for life. To protect the mental health of young students and avoid conflicts, the administration should warn them of the presence of materials in the course that may raise questions or triggers. It is not seen as complicated, but it is a big help for affected students who are still afraid of specific topics. Downes emphasizes: “A little heads-up can help students engage with uncomfortable and complex topics, and a little sensitivity to others” (1). All people are living beings with complex psyches and life experiences; they should not shame others for their injuries. The university should help people gain confidence and a sense of security.
Freedom of Speech
The position of protecting freedom of speech is justified by the need for people to hear various points of view to form a sober perception of reality. In the closed space of ‘pleasant’ opinions, an adequate subject will never be born, able to protect himself and what is dear to him. Universities should not cherish students; they were not created for this from the very beginning. The value of freedom of speech is a centuries-old component of American culture that should be remembered, including by younger generations.
The Principle of Neutrality
Universities, being places of demonstration of different views, should be neutral institutions. Their position should not be interspersed with the unique roles of the dean or rector. Only in an unbiased way is it possible to create a dialogue platform: “The neutral principle, no suppression of ideas, protects us all” (Stone, 4). Opponents of freedom of speech at the university pretend to favor protection, but in most cases, their protection is a substitute for the concept. Such protection protects a particular circle of persons (conditionally: people who have experienced trauma). The peace-loving idea turns into a deadly aggressive weapon in the power of the masses, where hundreds of people have the right to attack one. Thus, the university and society are faced with the fact that people who have experienced trauma force a person who did not have it before to receive a new trauma.
Disruption or Cancellation of Speeches: A Ban on Raising the Topic
Requests to save students from trigger topics just in practice are called the infliction of such a trauma. No teacher has the misanthropic intention of hurting as many students as possible by giving his lectures. Some like tough topics and provoke students to debate with ambiguous statements or by showing the same materials (texts, pictures). Today’s cancellation culture activists find no better way to oppose such topics than simply banning such lecturers from speaking or banning specific thematic talks. Such a ban tramples the central meaning of freedom of speech: the right to expression. The unsaid cannot be discussed or yelled at, which would be an excellent option for a university. The unspeakable does not live in the information space, and it does not exist; therefore, there is nothing to discuss. Young students living in the information space are diligently clearing it of what they do not want to hear, what makes them worry, grumble or get angry.
The cancellation of speeches shows teachers an indifferent and dismissive attitude towards them and their work. Stone notes: “Such a disruption is not in any way an exercise of free expression” (5). It is no secret that the trauma of rejection and neglect is one of the most difficult for people, especially for the modern generation. The lion’s share of social networks and the mechanism for setting likes are based on this. Many young people have experienced bullying, not associated with abuse or beatings but with ignorance. Excitingly, such students and fighters for justice offer a similar fate to those who have not even offended them yet but voiced a topic that potentially upsets them. Thus, students have the unconditional right to regulate university information flows based only on personal feelings.
Information World of the Modern Generation
The new generation pays a lot of attention to the information field because they feel how it can influence people. The purity of the information field for them has become a much more desirable achievement than freedom of speech. They have never fought for the release of speech, so they take it for granted and as something that, along with other social phenomena, lends itself to creative regulation. The principle of freedom of speech is inherently contradictory, but it does not become worse from this. Stone states: “New generation of students do not understand the nature, the fragility, and the importance of this principle” (1). The world did not care about the injuries of the free speech fighters, but they cared about their future and their views. Students seem reluctant to do this and prefer to be informationally protected from unpleasant news and opinions.
Fear of Being Misunderstood
The fear of being misunderstood is experienced by university administrators who do not want to incur the problems of the masses, overwhelmed by aggression and feelings of injustice. Reactionary groups of people may threaten with dismissals and lawsuits, but more loyal individuals will beg for punishment for the offender. It may seem that such people support the position stated initially, but they only value their reputation and work, which is quite logical and does not need to be condemned. It shows that Downes’ position is not as innocent as he would like. Stone writes: “College administrators, fearful of seeming unsympathetic to the protesters, terminate the events because of the disruptions and then fail to discipline the disrupters for their behavior” (2). He perfectly reflects the administrators’ fear for their future, which is controlled today in part by reactionary groups.
Previous Generation Contribution to Cancellation Culture
Students’ desires seem logical if readers pay attention to their childhood. Stone records: “They’ve been raised, the argument goes, by parents who have protected, rewarded, and celebrated them in every way from the time they were infants” (3). Such students have a long life ahead, and they are in no hurry to think about food and one job for life. As long-awaited children, brought up in a consumer’s paradise, who, fortunately, have not been to wars, they crave comfort.
The main arguments against freedom of speech in universities are considered a concern for students and respect for their experience of trauma. The counter-arguments are the principle of neutrality and the inadmissibility of canceling lectures and their prohibition. At the root of the last argument lies the desire of students to clear the information field of unpleasant and upsetting ideas. Sometimes the administration pretends that the stated position is close to them and cancels the professors and their lectures; they are afraid of the recreational group. Their upbringing generated students’ attitudes in a period of active consumption and the absence of world wars when people planned families and their kids were long-awaited.
Downes, Sophie. “Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces and Free Speech, Too.” New York Times, 2016.
Stone, Geoffry. “Free Expression in Peril.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2016.