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Letter: Free speech is dead, and we killed it

A few days ago, a well-intentioned university administrator sent an email to students advising them to self-censor their choice of language in public in order to maintain future opportunities. Many authors in this publication and elsewhere have pointed out the racially and nationally discriminatory overtones this email espoused. To my knowledge, none so far have pointed out the grave implications this incident has for Duke at large.

Over the past several years, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the Heterodox Academy, the National Coalition Against Censorship and others have rung the alarm about what is becoming the greatest threat to free speech on american campuses. While dramatic “deplatformings” and shouting matches by student protestors do happen (and can result in great TV for Fox News), the far more common and concerning phenomenon is students and faculty keeping their minority opinions to themselves due to the hostility of their peers to heterodox views. FIRE’s most recent data indicate that over half of college students have self-censored in class at some point since starting college—even among self-identified liberals and Democrats. Claims that our generation is being brainwashed by far-left ideologue professors are (mostly) overblown. Instead, we are gradually training each other to become so socially risk-averse that we fear expressing our true thoughts.

The fact that a Duke administrator saw nothing unusual about telling an entire national group of students to regulate their speech in a systematic way—for the sake of making the English-speaking majority more comfortable with their presence, no less—is a damning sign that our campus hasn’t escaped this national trend. The prospect of modifying one’s speech for the comfort of the faceless majority should be viewed as dystopian, not mundane. Moving forward, I hope that this campus will think about how we so readily and powerfully judge one another based on just a few words—whether it’s by the language they are spoken in or the ideas they represent.

Eidan Jacob is a Trinity senior.


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