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TU reader Sam Goodman of Carleton University in Ottawa recently published this piece
in her school’s newspaper. In it, she comments on free speech issues on college
campuses at large, and the spirit of the University of Chicago’s latest
acceptance letter penned by its Dean, John Ellison.

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University is a time of exploration and trying new things. It is a time in one’s life where one is free to taste everything on the menu that university has to offer. John Ellison, the dean at the University of Chicago, took this exploration a step further by promoting the university’s firm commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression in their latest acceptance letter. In this letter he wrote, “members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn, without fear of censorship.”

Ellison goes on to explain that he does not mean that harassment or threats are acceptable. He is simply encouraging disagreement when it arises and the discomfort that comes with it. In this situation, why should one have to retreat to a safe space? It is important to deal with the discomfort and learn how to argue for oneself because once you leave university, that is what it is like in the real world.

I can see why safe spaces and trigger warnings were created. It is important to be sensitive towards other people, but it is a very slippery slope. Where do you draw the line between appropriate censorship and going too far? Is there even such thing as appropriate censorship? We live in a country that prides itself on having free speech. There are countries around the world that still arrest journalists, and where free speech is prohibited. We should be celebrating what the United States of America and Canada have to offer, including the free speech that had to be fought for.

According to the paper Ellison attached to the university’s letter, academic freedom is “a principle that requires us to defend autonomy of thought and expression in our community, manifest in the rights of our students and faculty to speak, write, and teach freely.” A university’s mission is to provide a space for learning. Learning and freedom of speech go hand in hand, since it is very difficult to have one without the other.

If every guest speaker that might be controversial is canceled, students might miss out on a life-changing lecture, or at the very least, one where they learn valuable information. If every time an argument erupted and students had to leave the room to retreat to a safe space because there were differing ideas, there would be no arguments. It has been proven that when one is able to defend their stance, they strengthen it further. If there is harassment or bullying going on, then it is important for someone to step in and deal with it. But the solution is not to have a place where students are free from any confrontation or disagreement, because that is not realistic in life.

Ellison did not mean to offend anyone. His purpose was to create a diverse campus and show how the University of Chicago is for complete freedom of speech. It is human nature to disagree, but unless it escalates to the point of harassment, there is no harm in being able to fully express oneself. There should not be limitations in a free country, especially not in a university environment, where the whole point is to get out of your comfort zone and learn as much as possible.

How can you do that when you are living in constant fear of being censored every time you speak? University is supposed to prepare you for adulthood, and it cannot do this with boundaries put in place. 

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