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The Liberal Arts Education Requires Free Speech

Mike Kozinski ’21, Guest Writer

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“Diversity” has become a buzzword on college campuses as of late, and for good reason. When college campuses use the word “diversity,” they oftentimes do not use the word to its fullest extent. Rather, the word “diversity” has become a neologism that means “diversity of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation, not in thought.” With all this talk of diversity, especially given that last week that last week was Campus Inclusion Week, it is imperative that some some balance be brought into the discussion.

While there was much discussion of things such as diversity of gender identity, there was nothing said on the subject of diversity of thought, and that is infuriating because at a self-described liberal arts college, students should expect a liberal arts education.

The whole purpose of a liberal arts education is to open minds, develop critical thinking skills, and to vigorously debate all ideas — old and new, offensive and inoffensive. How can Dickinson possibly fulfill its commitment to providing a liberal arts education if it is unwilling to include diversity of thought as an important part of its dedication to diversity as a whole? When it comes to thought, Dickinson is embroiled in the same intellectual environment of many college campuses across America that Washington Post columnist George Will has described as “smug complacency and cloying self-congratulations.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has given Dickinson a “Red” rating for its speech code, meaning that the college has “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” For example, one of the responsibilities of the Bias Education & Response Team (BERT) is to resolve “bias incidents,” which are defined as “a pejorative act or expression.”

While BERT and the college administration are right to intervene in cases that involve bigoted actions by one person towards another, the idea that thoughts and ideas potentially being censored because they were deemed offensive by some arbitrary and subjective standard is downright Orwellian. Again, one of the key tenants to a liberal arts education is to openly and honestly debate ideas. That is incapable of happening if whatever someone says will be deemed offensive and therefore worthy of censorship by an arbitrary standard.

Free speech exists to debate controversial ideas. A debate over controversial social issues would spark controversy and needs the protection of free speech in order to continue without fear of censorship. If students cannot be assured that debates and the free exchange of ideas will continue unfettered, then debate and intellectual growth will stagnate, and diversity of thought will cease to exist. That more than anything else is a betrayal to the principles of a liberal arts education.

It is time for Dickinson to embrace true diversity and to include diversity of thought within its diversity program. Dickinson must host speakers that offend us, and it must host debates that annoy us. By doing so, Dickinson would foster an environment that values free speech and the free exchange of ideas. It would be controversial, and it would anger a lot people. Intellectual growth is not easy. However, it is always worth pursuing.

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The Liberal Arts Education Requires Free Speech