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We human beings are peculiar crea­tures.

In addition to reason, reflection, and con­tem­plation, we have been blessed with the ability to delib­erate through lan­guage. Con­ver­sa­tions form friend­ships, settle dis­putes, and from them the liberal arts spring to life. Hillsdale College stu­dents are bene­factors of an aca­demic envi­ronment that cham­pions intel­lectual liberty to pursue truth both within and beyond the classroom. Our campus rightly affirms that freedom of speech and aca­demic freedom are inex­tri­cably wed.

Unlike Hillsdale College, other insti­tu­tions are plagued by an insidious doc­trine of political cor­rectness that cur­tails robust con­ver­sation. In an envi­ronment rife with trigger warnings and safe spaces, our peers find them­selves cor­ralled into ide­o­logical sub­mission. Rather than be exposed to intel­lectual chal­lenge, they are coddled in their own beliefs, steeped in dogma, and unwilling to entertain other per­spec­tives.

Just last year, the Guardian reported that Yale Uni­versity stu­dents started a petition to abolish a core course requirement that show­cased canonical writers such as Chaucer and Shake­speare. Peti­tioners sub­mitted that “it is unac­ceptable that a Yale student con­sid­ering studying English lit­er­ature might read only white male authors.” Beyond the freedom of stu­dents to explore the work of other authors on their own time, the petition exac­er­bated the already popular notion that aca­demic freedom ends where our feelings begin.

The petition, among an array of speaker protests across America, finds its jus­ti­fi­cation in lan­guage. Certain words — racist, homo­phobe, sexist, hater, among others — carry con­no­ta­tions that rally pro­testers in ways mere name-calling never could. Because such terms right­fully apply to only a sliver of America’s pop­u­lation, their iden­ti­fi­cation with con­ser­v­ative orga­ni­za­tions is both mis­di­rected and slan­derous.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a pro­gressive legal group, rou­tinely employs this strategy to indict rep­utable insti­tu­tions such as Alliance Defending Freedom, a socially con­ser­v­ative legal orga­ni­zation with more than 50 vic­tories in the United States Supreme Court.

ADF’s tri­umphs include the landmark Trinity Lutheran case in which the Supreme Court ruled 7 – 2 that it is uncon­sti­tu­tional for any state to cite reli­gious affil­i­ation for denial of funds to a charter school. Branding ADF as a “hate group” is a con­ve­nient way for the SPLC to tarnish the organization’s rep­u­tation without addressing its argu­ments for reli­gious freedom. Modern lan­guage is used as a scythe against political dis­sention rather than as a medium for pro­ductive debate.

A similar phe­nomenon is described by George Orwell in “1984.” Orwell described a fic­tional world gov­erned by “newspeak,” a lan­guage devised by the English Socialist, or “Ingsoc,” Party, which pre­dis­posed its speakers to the party’s ide­ology. In the book’s “Appendix on Newspeak,” Orwell explained that “the purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the worldview and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc but to make all other modes of thought impossible…a thought diverging from the prin­ciples of Newspeak should be unthinkable.” Par­tisan activists have adopted this exact thesis in the real world under the guise of political cor­rectness, a doc­trine that exhorts thinkers to operate from sup­posedly unques­tionable political premises such as “white priv­ilege.”

The lesson? He who masters lan­guage also masters pol­itics. As a facil­i­tator of cordial delib­er­ation, rhetoric is a blessing; when employed to quash dis­sention, however, it becomes a curse. While lan­guage will not be recap­tured overnight, free speech advo­cates should be cog­nizant of the political strategy that drives the cen­sorship they condemn.

Winning the battle for free speech requires more than popular peti­tions and artic­ulate con­ser­v­ative speakers on college cam­puses. Con­ser­v­a­tives across America must tackle not only their oppo­nents’ rhetorical claims but also chal­lenge the war­rants upon which such claims rely.

I am proud to say that, at Hillsdale College, one need not look beyond dor­mi­tories and common areas to see that this refreshing method of rea­soning is alive and well. We should be grateful for the freedom to explore the liberal arts in pursuit of truth, unfet­tered by political cor­rectness.

Freedom to engage dis­parate views con­tributes to a holistic aca­demic expe­rience where con­cepts learned in the classroom are for­tified, debated, and mas­tered. Informed dis­cus­sions are lab­o­ra­tories of learning that merit our par­tic­i­pation. Next time you visit the college’s dining hall, introduce yourself and politely ask to join a table. The con­ver­sation might be more rewarding than you think.

  • Ellsworth_Toohey

    It’s really odd I see so many opinion pieces defending the very college the stu­dents go to.