The fight over free speech on campuses has again erupted in California where a speech by conservative author Ben Shapiro triggered demands that he be barred from campus. The doublespeak used to justify the denial of free speech is particularly chilling. The students insisted that allowing people to hear Shapiro put them at risk: “WE are tired of Stanford Administration’s complicity in putting Black, Brown, Trans, Queer, and Muslim students at risk by allowing SCR to bring Ben Shapiro to campus” On the other side, editors have called his flier anti-Semitic. While these students are intolerant and anti-free speech, but I do not believe that they intended any anti-Semitic message from using this image.
As “The Coalition of Concerned Students” wrote an op-ed in The Stanford Daily calling the speech by Shapiro an example of “another year of white supremacy, xenophobia and bigotry on Stanford’s campus.” The students declared their commitment not “to allow Shapiro’s talk to go uninterrupted.” In other words, we will not allow other students and faculty listen and have a discourse with Shapiro.
What is striking is how these students believe that denying free speech is a noble act — a view fueled by many faculty members who treat speech as violence or a tool of oppression. That makes being a censor sound like being a civil libertarian. You simply declare, as did the Stanford students, that this is a “harmful event” with “harmful people.” Done.
Conversely, Shapiro denounced the flier with the phrase “Ben B Gon” as anti-Semitic. Given that Shapiro is “a devout and outspoken Jew, the editorial board of The Stanford Review denounced the flier as insensitive and “a play on anti-Semitic tropes about extermination.” The group did send an email apologizing for the flyer. However, the group succeeded in interrupting the event by screaming and protesting to prevent Shapiro from being heard at points. This will continue so long as university officials refuse to take action against students to stop classes or school events.
I would have been more encouraged for an apology for seeking to silence those with opposing views. However, the rhetoric of these anti-free speech students is rising with their numbers. It is now fashionable to be against free speech. You just declare others to be “harmful people” with harmful ideas and insist on their silence.