New Threats To Freedom Essay Contest 2016

By Bonnie Snyder February 7, 2018

Over the course of this week, FIRE will be featuring the winningessays from our 2017–2018 Free Speech Essay Contest. Third-place winner Luke Sorensen attends Marana High School in Tucson, Arizona. His essay is below.

Ānjìng. Be Quiet.

Restlessly fidgeting in my leather seat, I fix my gaze upon the stream of buildings that rush by my window. Ancient pagodas, drum towers, and centuries-old fortresses pass by, juxtaposed by modern skyscrapers, casinos, and towering hotels. We stop, and as I step out of the car, I realize that we are in the heart of Beijing: Tiananmen Square. Looking around, I think about the massacre that unfolded here several years ago, on June 5th, 1989. The crushing of protests, the murdering of civilians, and the silencing of voices. I ask my travel guide what he remembers of the incident.

“Ānjìng,” my guide says. “Be quiet. You can’t speak of such things. You never know who is listening.”

With these statements, I come to understand that the expression of opinions is a volatile idea. In China, freedom of speech has been abolished. The Tiananmen Square Massacre never occurred. If one were to look for the event on Baidu, China’s leading search engine, results yield only tourist information of the square. The truth was swept under the rug, hidden, yet still silently present in the memories of the Chinese. In the United States, however, we retain the fundamental right to free speech, and should continue to fight for it so long as we believe in the ideals of a truly free society. Here, opinions propagate freely, present in the minds and mouths of the American people.

At many college campuses, however, the right to free speech is under threat. Take for example Williams College, a nationally ranked liberal arts college home to the student organization “Uncomfortable Learning.” Uncomfortable Learning, led by student Zach Wood, is a group dedicated to creating conversations about topics that are designed to push students beyond their comfort zones. The organization invites controversial individuals to speak, posing ideas that challenge students to consider notions that are not their own. By considering these ideas, students gain deeper understandings of differing opinions. This does not necessarily mean that a student’s views will change, as beliefs will often only become more grounded after understanding an opposing stance. Rather, it is about having discussions to become more aware of the many perspectives upon this earth.

However, by disinviting speaker John Derbyshire due to his reputation as a white supremacist, Williams College dissolves any chance for a discussion about Derbyshire’s views. Yet, these discussions play a critical role in a student’s learning. The purpose of college is to educate its students. This education does not solely refer to the curriculum taught in the classroom but also applies to ideas presented in the real world. However controversial, new and contentious ideas cause students to think critically about the issues at hand, often more so than what a typical classroom might offer. Rather than solely knowing what white supremacy is, Derbyshire would provide a way for students to understand why people believe in it and how that belief influences one’s thoughts. Through this consideration, his audience grows both as students and intellectual minds, more equipped to understand others.

Some argue that the views posed by Derbyshire stepped beyond the realm of uncomfortable and became conducive of a threatening, instigative learning environment. To this view, I argue that limiting free speech is no solution. The opinions expressed by Derbyshire, however divisive they may be, still exist throughout society. In silencing his voice, one only muffles a man expressing views that are already present. All this does is create a population ignorant of opinions that continue to drive the actions of individuals around them. In the context of Williams College, white supremacy still lives on, however, due the censorship of Derbyshire, students will simply be less educated of his opinions and of how those views influence the actions of others.

If a college truly desires to create an environment ripe to develop its students’ minds, free speech must be one of its defining characteristics. College is a place of learning and of growth. It is where students not only find their future careers but also their future selves. They develop their own goals, aspirations, and opinions. Without an abundance of ideas to draw from, however, students become limited in their scope of personal growth. A legion of like-minded individuals is produced, undermining the beauty and benefit of diversity in ideas, personalities, and thoughts that our constantly changing world demands.

Through the censorship of opposing ideas, institutions innately make one voice—the voice that is socially acceptable—the only voice that can be heard. However, we do not learn from hearing what we already believe. We learn by being challenged to consider novel ideas that are different from our own, from the norm, and from what is comfortable. No ideological group, regardless of how unpleasant, derogatory, or offensive their beliefs may be, should be marginalized to silence. Rather, the diversity of opinions should be a welcomed aspect of a college education. Only then can a student truly be free to learn.

By Emily Buck January 31, 2014

Today, FIRE is pleased to announce the winners of our 2013–2014 Freedom in Academia Essay Contest:

Kanitta Kulprathipanja, a senior at Schaumburg High School in Schaumburg, Illinois, won first prize for her essay inviting readers to imagine what her essay would look like without freedom of speech. Kanitta will receive a $10,000 college scholarship. In her winning essay, published below, Kanitta argues that “[c]ollege brings huge changes in the life of a student. Students learn a lot during the years they spend there: about the past, about the world, and about themselves. Preventing free speech stunts their ability to gain this knowledge.”

Isabella Penola, a home-schooled junior from Zionsville, Indiana, took second place with her essay, “The Necessity of Debate.” Isabella will receive a $5,000 college scholarship.

The three third place winners, who will each receive $1,000 college scholarships, are:

  • Justin Hunsaker of Mesa, AZ
  • James Ellwanger of Des Moines, IA
  • Emily Cox of Fairfax, VA

The winners of our $500 college scholarship drawing are:

  • Elisabeth Pomeroy of West Hatfield, MA
  • Noah Morris of Henderson, NV
  • Rachel Higgins of Stillwater, OK
  • Morgan Schaefer of Sicklerville, NJ

FIRE’s essay contest engages high school students in this effort as part of our “Know Before You Go” initiative, alerting them to the threat of censorship before they get to campus. This year, more high school students than ever before—3,300—submitted essays explaining why they believe free speech is important in higher education.

FIRE would like to thank all of the participants in this year’s essay contest and wish a hearty congratulations to Kanitta, Isabella, Justin, James, Emily, Elisabeth, Noah, Rachel, and Morgan! FIRE would also like to thank the Sandra and Lawrence Post Family Foundation for its generosity in making the 2013–2014 essay contest possible. To read all of the winning essays, visit the contest page.

**** **** ***** *****
Kanitta Kulprathipanja
*** ***** * **** * **** *** ** *** ***. * ******** *** ******* **** **** ******** ***** ** **** ** *** **** ** ** *** *******.

Without the freedom of speech, this is what would remain of my essay if someone in a position of power disagreed with my argument. Thanks to the U.S. Constitution, and those who defend it, it looks like this instead:

Imagine a country in which a student can get penalized for reading a book, one in which legal adults are banned from asking each other on dates, and peacefully disagreeing with an authority figure could result in suspension. Many Americans would immediately form an image of an oppressive dictatorship. Their minds may run through a list of countries with the worst freedom of speech. But these harsh injustices did not occur in North Korea, Turkmenistan, or Eritrea. They occurred in Francis Scott Key’s “land of the free,” the United States of America. At a time in their lives when students most desperately need to explore and expand their minds, a lack of freedom hinders their ability to grow as both students and citizens of the U.S.A.

Many students dread reading history books. However, if one takes the time to read them, he or she learns valuable information about the past, as well as gains the ability to apply what they have learned to the present and future. At Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, Keith John Sampson was found guilty for racial harassment. He was not given a hearing. The so-called harassment was the simple act of reading. Sampson was found with the book Notre Dame Vs. The Klan. The administration judged the book without realizing it was an anti-Klan historical account, and promptly took action. Regardless of the book’s nature, the school’s punishment against Sampson infringed upon his freedom, something we as Americans value as a basic right. If we allow institutions to prevent students from doing something as basic as reading a history book, not only do we stunt their knowledge, but we prevent them from being able to learn from the mistakes of the past. The United States has flaws. As its citizens, we need to grow past these mistakes and build a better future. To do this, we must use every resource to its fullest. Colleges must allow students their freedom so that our most important resource, our people, will be prepared to help our nation grow.

Unfortunately, colleges do not always treat students as adults that possess the ability to make such changes in the world. Rather, they attempt to belittle students and their ideas. They suppress what students can say or do in order for the campus to run the way they seem fit. At Colorado College, students can get in trouble for saying something embarrassing; Davidson previously rendered asking someone on a date as sexual harassment. If students can get in trouble for something this trivial, what happens when they say something a little more serious? Unfortunately, Hayden Barnes found out how little his freedom of speech meant to Valdosta when he attempted to raise discussion about the president’s use of student money. The president planned to spend forty million dollars on a parking garage. Barnes did not find this a worthwhile use of his money, and he protested against the cause. The president attempted to have him removed from the university as a result. The president’s actions clearly display the unfortunate truth that the administrations of some schools attempt to silence the free speech of their students. As a result, a student that publicly argues his or her opinion gets punished for standing up for himself or herself. This behavior rewards a lack of critical thinking and analysis in students, something the school should encourage. Students who critically analyze the world possess the ability to see the possibility for improvement; the kind of students these schools encourage only possess the ability to agree with those in charge, if the students even pay attention at all. If we as a country want to grow, we need citizens like Barnes, who feel comfortable challenging ideas and looking for the best options. We cannot allow these students to disappear simply because those in charge of our institutions feel threatened.

Free speech on college campuses is not only a must, it is a right. College brings huge changes in the life of a student. Students learn a lot during the years they spend there: about the past, about the world, and about themselves. Preventing free speech stunts their ability to gain this knowledge. It punishes those who seek to improve the world; it encourages a lack of critical thinking. College students need to explore and learn to become better citizens for the future. In order for the United States to continue to grow, we must continue to fight for our freedoms, including free speech on college campuses.

Image: “Close Up Of Human Hand With Pen” – Shutterstock

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