“When did you start being afraid to speak up?”
This is the danger concepts like trigger warnings and speech codes present to free speech. People start censoring themselves over fear of the mob.
One professor shared her story at the Washington Post:
Afraid to speak up: In the era of trigger warnings, a tenured professor stays silent
A colleague recently hit me with a hard question: “When did you start being afraid to speak up?”
She sounded surprised more than accusatory about my silence following a brouhaha at an academic conference from which we were returning.
As an assistant professor climbing the ranks in higher education, I frequently challenged the loudest voices in the room when I thought they were wrong.
Now I have tenure, which assures even greater academic freedom. But in the current campus climate of safe spaces, trigger warnings and outrage over anything politically incorrect, I find myself increasingly holding back and second-guessing myself.
I’m not the only one. A 2010 study from the American Association of Colleges and Universities shows that only 30 percent of college seniors and 17 percent of professors strongly agree it’s safe to hold unpopular points of view on campus.
My most recent struggle with self-censorship came in the context of a gala at the international conference. It was a joyous 1920s-style burlesque show, which was “equal opportunity” inclusive as it celebrated life. A comedian in purple pants embraced his gayness and got everybody laughing. Men and women dancers tastefully depicted multiple facets of the Roaring Twenties — some sensual, some humorous, and everything done to a fun and uplifting beat.
I was dazzled by every performance, but the conference director seemed nervous afterward. He wasn’t expecting something quite so provocative as a mini striptease in one sequence, and he worried that people might complain.
Sure enough, a critical post soon appeared on Facebook from a champion of gender inclusiveness — a gay woman who hadn’t seen the show but had learned about it from a friend. Like-minded thinkers quickly added their comments, and some called for a boycott of the society.
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