Numerous news outlets have recently covered the clash between students at UC Berkeley and conservative commentator Ann Coulter. Simply put, Coulter was scheduled to speak at the university until news of her arrival sparked fear of potentially violent protests. Though Coulter insisted she speak regardless, she ultimately backed out of appearing at the university altogether when its administration insisted she come to speak at a later date. More specifically, the school suggested Coulter come to Berkeley’s campus at a time where there would be less students on campus, which would reduce the chance of a violent protest breaking out.
Though Coulter was initially receiving support from Young America’s Foundation, a group on UC Berkeley’s campus, this group eventually drew back their efforts in helping her. There have certainly been instances in the past where speakers have made students on campuses across the nation feel uncomfortable with the very mention of potential appearances, but is cancelling these appearances appropriate?
The problem with living in such a heated political climate is the disregard people with opposing views have for one another’s perspectives. Ann Coulter was shut down before she was given the opportunity to present her viewpoints. Though she is notorious for her conservative views, students ultimately rejected a learning opportunity. Shutting people out because of differences is the last course of action that should be taken. The same could be said about a liberal speaker denied the opportunity to speak at a more conservative campus.
Being able to listen, absorb, and respond to opposing viewpoints is vital in creating a constructive learning atmosphere. To be more frank, people are allowed and should be encouraged to disagree with one another. Listening to various arguments and changing your personal viewpoints are not mutually exclusive, however. Conversations that spark debate are ultimately tools in educating peers who may be less informed or blatantly ignorant.
The UC Berkeley and Coulter debacle will not be the last time a campus is unsatisfied with a speaker. Hopefully, speakers who may hold unpopular opinions do not feel discouraged in presenting these opinions. Embracing autonomy in a society obsessed with conformity is difficult. It seems to me that most people are willing to advocate for free speech until someone challenges their personal beliefs.
Free speech should not be exclusive to individuals who see themselves as being either “liberal” or “conservative.” Free speech should inspire people to respectfully present their viewpoints in order to lessen the divide between political parties.