When a large-scale survey of college students’ attitudes toward free speech was released this week, the terms were puzzling. Students were presented with the following choice: Is it more important to protect free-speech rights or promote a diverse and inclusive society? A disturbing 53 percent chose the latter option, including large majorities of women, blacks, and Democrats.
The question on everyone’s mind was: How can it be that “free speech” and “inclusion” are opposites? The whole point of the First Amendment, in its clauses on both religion and expression, is to protect the right to think and express unpopular, minority, even radical views. Yet the question in the survey was cleverly phrased: It unveiled the troubling truth that like so many other euphemisms, inclusion has come to signify its opposite. The important student constituency of the Democratic party simply revealed what is true of the Left overall: When they say “inclusion,” they’re talking about “exclusion.”
The survey doesn’t make sense unless you acknowledge this fact. “Free speech” and “in the name of diversity, everyone is allowed to say their piece” aren’t opposing ideas. “Free speech” vs. “shut up, heretic” are. When these students extol “inclusion” they aren’t talking about being welcoming to minorities, women, or unpopular viewpoints. They aren’t thinking about Jason Riley (a black author who was disinvited from a Virginia Tech speaking engagement because of the administration’s fear that he might spark protests) or Christina Hoff Sommers (who this month was blocked from entering the forum for her speech at the law school of Oregon’s Lewis & Clark College, then repeatedly shouted down and interrupted, then asked to cut off her remarks by the dean of diversity and inclusion because the students were getting “antsy”). They are portraying free speech as a zero-sum game in which the speech of X cancels out the speech of Y, who after all could have been appearing in that hall or on that op-ed page instead.
Or to put it another way, today’s digitally nurtured students are imagining speech as much like a book with a fixed number of pages: If there are only so many pages, then some must be set aside for the speech of the marginalized. Yet speech isn’t limited at all. It’s like the Internet, to which more pages are always being added. Of course today’s Internet-marinated students know this; the students of the Left simply pretend otherwise because they fear the spread of conservative ideas, and the only surefire way of winning an argument against a conservative is to prevent him from speaking.
Inclusion is merely the new soft, cottony term for marginalizing, shutting down, and kicking out the disfavored. Look at Harvard, which brought the hammer down on all single-gender social groups in the name of inclusion, then exempted female groups, saying it was okay for them to be “gender-focused.” The policy seemed tailored to the point of view expressed in an editorial in the Crimson that made the double standard clear: “We wish it was possible for administrators to better distinguish male final clubs and sororities. If the committee seeks to combat exclusivity and foster belonging, arguably sororities can provide a supportive role by giving women a social space on campus.” Male final clubs? Bad. Sororities? Good.
All over the country, especially at schools, “inclusion” is being used to push people and ideas out the door. At NYU, after professor of liberal studies Michael Rectenwald mocked hypersensitivity about Halloween costumes, he was castigated by the department’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group, then pushed the same day to go on sudden leave in mid-semester. In the Bay Area, a Catholic K–12 institution, the San Domenico School, removed statues of Jesus and Mary, citing the need to be more “inclusive.” Excluded were the feelings of anyone who liked the statues. At Grace College and Seminary in Indiana, three employees were fired in the name of “inclusion” after they posed as rappers for a mock album cover posted on social media that lampooned the school’s straitlaced reputation.
Ten percent believe the use of violence to shut down disagreeable speech is justified, suggesting that millions of college students are authoritarian wannabes who long to wield the truncheon against their ideological foes.
Other figures from the Gallup-Knight Foundation survey of more than 3,000 college students are even more discouraging: Ten percent believe the use of violence to shut down disagreeable speech is justified, suggesting that millions of college students are authoritarian wannabes who long to wield the truncheon against their ideological foes, and 37 percent believe shouting down speakers is acceptable. Huge majorities — 64 percent — believe that “hate speech” should be proscribed and that it is not protected by the Constitution. That figure includes 75 percent of Democratic students, 71 percent of women, and 71 percent of blacks.
Today’s campus is considerably to the left of Barack Obama, who said in 2015, “Feel free to disagree with somebody, but don’t try to just shut them up.” As former dean of Harvard College Harvey Lewis recently noted in a blog post, “The weaponization of ‘inclusion’ is the most sanctimonious exercise I can remember at Harvard, and that is saying something in a place never known for its humility.”