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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: February 2020

Chapter 6 - What Went Wrong?

from Part I - The Advocatus Diaboli: Reflections on Free Thought and Free Speech


The impetus for this article began with a question I was tasked to answer: “Is Freedom of Speech Harmful for College Students?” The query came from my alma mater California State University, Fullerton, for a 2015 symposium they were hosting on the title question, partly in response to a controversy the year before captured in this headline in the Orange County Register: “Cal State Fullerton Sorority Sanctioned for ‘Taco Tuesday’ Party” What was the sorority’s sin? “Cultural appropriation.” That is, appropriating someone else’s culture as your own. Seriously? How could free speech possibly be harmful to anyone, much less college students whose introduction to the invigorating world of ideas begins with the premise that any and all topics are open for debate and disputation? I shouldn’t have been, given that signs had appeared the previous few years – starting around 2013 – with the deplatforming of controversial speakers; the emphasis on protecting students’ feelings from ideas that might challenge their beliefs; the call for trigger warnings about sensitive subjects in books, films, and lectures; the opening of safe spaces for students to retreat to when encountering ideas they find offensive; and the dispersal of lists of microaggressions – words, phrases, statements, and questions that might offend people. This article is my hypothesis of what went wrong.