A woman in an English class expresses her beliefs about “reverse racism.” There’s collective eye roll from her woke classmates, a concerned look from the professor and then everyone moves on. Nobody takes the time to prove with evidence that reverse racism objectively does not exist. Instead, we just sigh, decide she’s not one of us and go on with our more sophisticated discussion, using words like microaggression, cisgender, transmisogyny and other language outsiders are unfamiliar with, and therefore, are excluded from the discussion.
A man in a philosophy class mentions he’s pro-life. He might be eager to discuss the topic with his peers, but the subject is too touchy for a classroom, and 90 percent of his classmates are already in agreement on the issue.
We read essays and books all semester, which are in their very essence arguments. We make our own arguments in essays, but these writings never make it to the classroom. The classroom is where the professor tells us why the literature is correct. But the professor and the literature in these situations can only do so much for the student who might not agree, who might not speak for fear of using the wrong pronoun or fear of arguing a dissenting opinion. We need to learn from our peers as well.
How is it possible that we had a raging white supremacist among us and most of us didn’t know he existed until his picture appeared in national news? People in classes with Peter Cvjetanovic knew what he was like. We’ve heard he’s not shy about his racism. Why didn’t anyone challenge him to a debate or write an editorial in the paper about what he was saying? Why was a guy like him allowed to remain in the shadows?
It’s because we don’t want to talk about it. We’d rather let those we disagree with have their allotted time to speak in class, then we whisper about how ignorant they are afterword with our people. In doing so, we risk becoming a generation of Facebook commenters who would rather say their piece, log off and wait for the likes than have a civil argument.
We should be arguing in our classrooms. We should be speaking our minds no matter what’s on our mind. With the literature and the research informing our opinions the right ideas should win out. That won’t happen if some of our students are too afraid to speak out.
Edwin Lyngar wrote in his column for the Reno Gazette-Journal last week that he agrees with UNR’s decision to allow Cvjetanovic to remain on campus. Why? Free speech of course, and because he “needs the education, badly,” Lyngar said.
This isn’t to say that some of the hallmarks of the liberal college stereotype — the safe spaces, the trigger warnings, and the like — aren’t without merit. When conversations run the gamut, as they do here, there is no guarantee that everyone will be comfortable with a topic, nor should they be comfortable with that topic.
Moreover, this isn’t to say that this — the systemic quashing of dissenting opinion — is always the case. Some professors do a good job of mediating real discussion, and there are plenty of classes that have the right amount of healthy arguing. But this is the exception, not the norm.
Ultimately, free speech is a core value of both this country and its universities. We shouldn’t call for the silencing of our critics, that can only lead to a bigger liberal bubble. Instead, we should ask why those who disagree with us disagree and debate them honestly and openly.
The Editorial Board can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.