Posted on: April 14, 2022 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Graphics by Sarah Schudt

Education relies heavily on the sharing of ideas. Critical thinking requires us to remain open-minded and ready to enter into conversation. It requires us to explore different possibilities and to recognize that truth is usually complex.

So what happens if students grow too afraid to express their ideas? What happens if cancel culture, which has prevailed on the internet for several years, leads us to censor ourselves before our thoughts even have a chance to develop?

More than 80 percent of students censor themselves in the classroom at least some of the time, according to a survey of more than 37,000 students at 159 colleges conducted last year by College Pulse, and 21 percent said they censor themselves often.

Rosie Finnegan

Opinion Editor

I have seen this first-hand. In class, I have heard students explicitly refuse to comment on something because they hold an unpopular political belief. It’s not right for students to feel uneasy about disclosing what they fundamentally believe.

From what I have observed, the students who hold back often tend to be ones who lean toward conservative beliefs. And that is unfair. Regardless of what I personally believe, I think that people should feel comfortable expressing their thoughts.

Writing for a student publication also allows me to observe self-censorship. Students and faculty alike will be hesitant to speak on subjects that include taking a stance on something. If the free exchange of ideas cannot happen in a college environment, where can it happen?

Most of the time, controversial topics are not black and white. Each of us may have a piece of the truth, and the only way we can put the pieces together is through open, civilized dialogue.

We may have an idea of what we think is right or wrong, but to be so steadfast in our own moral code that we do not engage with others about our opinions is not productive. Even if we come out of a conversation with the same ideas, we likely benefitted from the experience in some way if all parties were willing to listen. Opinions about morally gray topics don’t matter if those opinions aren’t shared.

In my sociology class last semester, a student gave a presentation about transgender people in sports. There were a lot of different nuances to that conversation, and my classmates and I made sure to include every disclaimer, whether it was not being part of the trans community or not being an athlete. But I believe that all opinions were heard from all different perspectives. We may not have come to an agreed-upon stance to take on the issue, but we came out of that conversation with a better understanding of the topic as a whole.

Difficult conversations are crucial for society to function, as political science professor Kevin Navratil and student success specialist DeWitt Scott have been saying all semester through their series of virtual events as part of the college’s Democracy Commitment program.

In the most recent “Difficult Conversations” presentation, Navratil and Scott discussed cancel culture and “wokeism” on college campuses and how they can negatively affect everyone involved by restricting the flow of ideas.

Being offended is a vital part of conversation. We need to interact with problematic things to be able to understand what makes them problematic. If you find yourself upset by something that’s said, take the time to figure out why, and develop opinions based on that experience. Living comfortably away from discourse makes thought stagnant. It keeps us from discovering new truths. 

And isn’t that what college is for?