Free speech protects inclusivity, facilitates diverse communities
A new poll came out that raises questions about the campus free speech debate. Conducted by Gallup, the poll interviewed 3,000 students and asked them whether protecting free speech or providing an inclusive and diverse society was more important. Rather alarmingly, inclusivity and diversity was favored overall by a 53-46 percent margin. While both are important, it’s a stark display that the First Amendment would take a back seat to any other principle. This is especially true when free speech is actually indispensable to diversity.
It initially seems bizarre that these two principles are being compared. They’re not diametrically opposite ideals. It’s not like you have to decide whether to protect or renounce free speech for the sake of diversity. Except, the unfortunate truth is that on college campuses, these are two warring principles.
Many politically active college students believe speech that can offend is violent. “Hate speech” is the term used to declare any speech that may be offensive, and it’s believed to be incite violence. It’s also the belief of these students that certain speech will target specific communities of students, potentially denying these communities their identity. Therefore, it becomes clear that in this frame of mind, free speech can directly hurt the diversity or inclusivity of a campus. The reality is that free speech and diversity go hand in hand.
Of course, the most important kind is diversity of thought. All too often on campus we ignore diversity of thought in favor of diversity of appearance or identity. Obviously, those are positive goals to achieve and I’d loathe anyone who’d want to do away with them, but without diversity of thought, other forms of diversity mean very little. For example, you wouldn’t find a meeting between Idi Amin, Mao Zedong and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a moral good just because there was diversity of appearance and identity.
Moreover, making diversity the primary goal of a society does not make that society inherently better. India is perhaps the most ethnically diverse country in the world, yet according to the Washington Post is the most racially hostile. Ideas and principles trump any ethnicity or skin-deep diversity. Individuals are more important than their identity.
The limitation of free speech would therefore stifle the most important element of diversity and inclusivity. Those against free speech want to suppress hate speech, but with such an ill-defined boundary of unacceptable speech, the door would be wide open to abuse. That’s why hate speech has already become the rallying cry to shut down campus talks by feminists and liberal professors as well as white nationalists. When a right is no longer protected, you never know when the pendulum of legality will swing away from you.
Free speech can also be as much a check on bad ideas as a protection of all ideas. When a truly offensive or incompatible idea enters a forum of ideas, such as a campus, it becomes scrutinized, criticized and socially ostracized by those who think differently. The idea is then forced to change or be subject to rightful ridicule. If only one way of thinking is allowed in the forum, these ideas can only fester unchallenged and unabated.
Finally, it’s a fallacy to believe that eliminating offensive speech is the key to achieving inclusivity. Being able to speak your mind without physical recourse is one of the most inclusive principles we have and protecting it can create the most diverse communities.