EDITORIAL: Freedom of speech applies to all sides
Silencing speakers at U. is almost always wrong response
In 2014, an invitation extended to former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Conodoleezza Rice to speak at the University’s commencement was met with zealous backlash. Students and faculty protested the invitation for a month before Rice finally pulled out of the ceremony, at points staging a sit-in outside of University President Robert L. Barchi’s office demanding Rice’s disinvitation and interrupting a senate meeting to question Barchi’s passivity with regard to their demands. The main line of reasoning behind their doing so was embedded in Rice’s involvement in what they deemed as former President George W. Bush’s administration’s war crimes and the devastating invasion of Iraq.
The protesters involved in her ultimate withdrawal no doubt showcased the unwavering power of student activism, but in utilizing that power they unintentionally displayed a dangerous case of hypocrisy. With the use of their right to free speech, the activists involved worked to ensure that someone they opposed was not able to use that same right — and that those within the Rutgers community who looked up to her were not able to hear what she had to offer them.
Rice was the first Black woman appointed to national security advisor, the first Black female secretary of state and the first Black woman to be named provost of Stanford University. Her level of influence and success is unquestionable. Last Thursday, Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute of Politics hosted an arguably equally influential character in American politics for a conversation about women, bipartisanship and American democracy — former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. This event, despite Clinton’s controversial past and support of the Iraq war as a senator, was met with no protest.
The point here is not to say that since Rice was protested out of speaking, that the same precedent should have kept Clinton from coming to Rutgers — the point is the opposite. Both Rice and Clinton should have spoken. The proper answer to a speaker or a speech that one disagrees with is not a motion to silence the opposing side, but simply more speech.
We have unfortunately seen too many instances of student activists attempting to silencing those they disagree with, such as the case of Milo Yiannopoulos’s visit to campus in 2016 when protesters disrupted the event by chanting throughout its duration. While Yiannopoulos is known for saying rather inflammatory and offensive things, to silence him remains the wrong answer. Disruptive behavior itself is not practical and shows no intellectual fortitude — as students of one of the best Universities in the country, we can surely think of better ways to combat speech like his.
Rutgers prides itself on its diversity — but we cannot have diversity without intellectual diversity, and intellectual diversity requires freedom of speech. As it should be, freedom of speech is utilized by all groups to enact change that they wish to see, but when one improperly uses his or her freedom of speech to prevent others from using theirs, we all lose.
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