Letter to the Editor: In response to “Conservative views are unfairly silenced on campus"

By ANTHONY BOUTROS | October 12, 2017

In response to “Conservative views are unfairly silenced on campus,” published on October 5:

Dear Editor,

An article written by James O’Donnell last week discussed the suppression of free speech on college campuses. I agree that the issue of silencing diversity of thought exists on college campuses, and I believe that it is detrimental to democracy. However, it is simplistic to claim that this is an ideological problem perpetrated by liberals against conservatives.

The article is riddled with logical fallacies and proves unconvincing. First, the claim that “Open political dialogue has existed in this nation for nearly 250 years” is false. Consult Nat Turner, Carrie Chapman Catt or Phyliss Anderson. Also, providing anecdotal evidence from UC Berkeley and a friend in class is nothing more than cherry picking evidence. Finally, beginning the argument by claiming that “having to argue this point feels ridiculous to me. It’s clearly true” is circular reasoning.

These fallacies lead O’Donnell to simply claim that the problem is an ideological one between liberals (who supposedly make up a majority of college students) and conservatives (who are unfairly silenced).

In fact, further analysis of silencing reveals that it is not an issue of liberals oppressing conservatives but a result of language that has become psychologized. In other words, arguments are interpreted as personal attacks, and evidence is anecdotal. The right interprets discussion about gun control as a threat to individual liberty. The left interprets discussion about religious freedom as bigotry. These issues are framed personally, and people are offended by what they perceive as attacks on their identities.

Therefore, when advocating for greater free speech on college campuses, one cannot simply proclaim that liberals are the problem and present selective examples. For example, instead of spearheading academic discussion about the importance of free speech to democracy through logical appeals and fact-based evidence, it reinforces the problem itself: debates based on ad hominem arguments and spurious anecdotal evidence that make people feel attacked and silence them.    

The only way to challenge silence is to spark diverse discussion. Student groups at Hopkins, including IDEAL and the Civic Engagement Committee, do just that.

Anthony Boutros

Hopkins Class of 2020

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