Diversity is a concept that we strongly value as Americans. Racial, ethnic, cultural, and other forms of diversity are woven into the very fabric of our nation. Diversity should be celebrated for the positive impact in our communities. We believe in the importance of diversity in the workplace, and the ability of all Americans – women and men, young and old, rich and poor, and any American who plays by the rules – to achieve their dreams and provide an even better life for their families. Fundamentally, we believe that growing diversity makes America a better place to live.
But why is it that on college campuses today, our institutions designed to prepare young men and women for life after college, we are failing to embrace another form of diversity that has long been championed by Americans from all walks of life?
Intellectual diversity has been a driving force behind American innovation, creativity, and even bipartisan approaches to solving our nation’s public policy challenges.
However, on college campuses today, a new culture has emerged that now dominates the campus conversation. It resembles political correctness, but it’s more than that. It’s more than regulation of free speech, and it’s instead about emotional well-being.
In lieu of open dialogue and the competition of ideas, campus culture today instead emphasizes trigger warnings and safe spaces. Truly, these concepts are seemingly well-intentioned, but they have been elevated in our campus culture at the expense of intellectual diversity and free expression.
Trigger warnings, for example, have legitimate psychiatric origins that should not be ignored. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), of which there are several types, is a legitimate concern for those who have experienced traumatic events such as military combat, violent crimes, natural disaster, or sexual assault to name a few. But, in recent years, trigger warnings have, in some cases, been seized by those seeking to avoid a dialogue surrounding a certain topic.
What is most unfortunate is that this misuse of trigger warnings (often abbreviated with “TW” before a description of what is to be discussed) has minimized their seriousness for those who have experienced a legitimately traumatic event, by any reasonable standard. However, for those who do exhibit symptoms of PTSD, medical professionals nearly always recommend some form of confrontation or conversation about the traumatic experience in order to better handle the symptoms, something that trigger warnings inherently avoid.
Who opposes a physically safe atmosphere on America’s college campuses? Nobody. But safe spaces are not what their name might suggest. Similar to trigger warnings, safe spaces are often an instrument of dialogue avoidance on college campuses. The fact is, we are not preparing our graduates for life after college when we create shields to protect students from topics deemed as uncomfortable and encourage students to retreat from conversations when perspectives differ from their own.
The American college experience is meant to facilitate and encourage students to think critically about ideas that often challenge our “intellectual comfort zones,” instead of avoiding topics or points of view that do not align with our existing political philosophies or perceptions of how the world works.
The remedy is simple: Colleges and universities must make it abundantly clear that intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas is a hallmark of our collegiate system in America. In order to move beyond intolerance, we must be willing to have respectful discourse on our college campuses, facilitate debate and dialogue among opposing points of view, and challenge students to think critically and in a fact-based way.
Millennials of all political perspectives are united by one key factor: We are passionate about our causes and we care deeply about the future of our country that we are inheriting from previous generations.
This week, at colleges and universities across the country, countless organizations are celebrating free speech through National Free Speech Week from October 16-22.
Let’s have a dialogue. America’s future generations will be better for it.