Tuesday 11 November 2008

1st Amendment Rights Exist in College, Too.

The following is an essay for a scholarship given by FIRE. I encourage you all to visit their website and watch the videos... it's a great organization, and what they are doing is so important.
As I look forward to entering college next year, I like to believe during those four years I will be exposed to a plethora of new ideas, views, and opinions. I hope to be submerged in a sea of varying opinions and diverse beliefs, and that I might develop my own views while learning more about opposing views. After four years of high school, I feel that it is imperative to my future that I learn as much as I can from those around me. Upon graduation, I will be entering a world of diverse people, and thus diverse beliefs and opinions. It is the duty of universities and colleges to not only educate students academically, but to expose them to such beliefs and ideas, that upon graduation, they will be well prepared to actively participate in our ever-changing, ever-diverse society.

Sadly, in so many universities and colleges across our nation, this will not be the case. As seen in these videos, students' opinions are so often "hushed", whether they be directed at a terrorist group or for simple concern for the environment. If students cannot voice opinion of the building of parking garage, what other opinions will be silenced? This truly worries me, and should worry any other student who holds their first amendment rights dear. I hold on to the hope that next year, if there is an issue I feel unjust, I will be able to fearlessly voice my opinion in a non-violent way without being reprimanded or censored.

Universities' ability to play government goes against the fundamental values of our American society. As citizens, our rights are well protected in the U.S. Constitution, especially the rights of accused persons. A fair trial and an attorney are guaranteed to us. If, as students, such rights are overlooked, it is as if we are not living in a free state, and we might well be living in a less fortunate, less democratic country. Students must understand and remember at all times that these rights are present on a college campus; if anything, such rights are more present on a college campus. How is it that colleges, places created for the distribution of ideas and nursing of scholarship, so quickly cut down any dissidence, any message of individual opinion?

It seems that universities censor students out of fear - fear of offending others, fear of uncomfortable situations. So often do we see colleges trying so hard to protect the right of minorities and underrepresented religious groups, that members of the majority suffer. For example, does individual student's celebration of Halloween while in school violate the rights of an individual who does not believe in such a holiday? It may make students uncomfortable, offend them, even anger them, but the Bill of Rights has no mention of the right to be comfortable, or the right to agree with every voiced opinion in the proximity. While students maybe be put in awkward situations by encountering such acts of expression, these situations should be seen as learning opportunities - opportunities to hear about what others belief, to wonder why they believe it, to question such beliefs, and to understand your own beliefs, and why you hold them.

Universities that have a habit of silencing expressive students are doing a great disservice to themselves. It is easily understood that any student who is willing to take a stand and voice their ideas is an active student, engaged in their studies, who have decided to take their education in their own hands. These are not passive students, but enthusiastic young men and women who understand that their education and personal ideas are the most important thing they posses - these items cannot be taken away from them. To discourage such students, or to remove them from the school, is to cleanse the school of enthusiasm and to rid it of perhaps the most active, scholarly students. This message of hostility towards personal development and growth is undoubtedly an interference to the purpose of any center of higher learning.

While it is of severe importance that universities, colleges, and other centers of learning understand students' rights and freedoms, it is of perhaps equal importance that students understand them as well. Students must realize that not only are they free to speak for or against issues they find important, but it is their civic responsibility to voice these concerns and act to correct injustices in their society. They must realize that others around them are free to voice their side of an issue, while the opposition is free to do the same. Most importantly, students must remember that if ever their chosen center of learning attempts to silence their voice, they must defend their views, opinions, and their right to make themselves heard.

1 comment:

Jim Mignano said...

I feel like "perhaps" in the following sentence should be ommitted: While it is of severe importance that universities, colleges, and other centers of learning understand students' rights and freedoms, it is of perhaps equal importance that students understand them as well.

That's the only advice I got for ya Mollz.

I liked it though :)