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Student Protests Threaten Free Speech on College Campuses

Student-run protests on college campuses seem to be a daily occurrence now. It’s like clockwork: A controversial guest speaker is invited to lecture on campus, and in no time students are up in arms. But why are college students—especially ones at some of the most prestigious schools—so eager to dismiss learning opportunities as instances of “oppression?”

Of course, students have the right to exercise their First Amendment right to protest. But, in doing so they often disrupt the learning process, for others as much as for themselves. Take a recent event that occurred at the College of the Holy Cross. Guest speaker Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a controversial author, was invited to campus to discuss, and even to question, the idea that privileged students on prestigious college campuses remain oppressed.

The response? Student protestors made sure to take up every seat in the room — effectively barring genuinely interested students and faculty from attending the talk — and chanted loudly as Mac Donald tried to share her viewpoints.

Protesters were even encouraged by the school’s Dean of Students, who wrote in support of their actions. She claimed these students had a right to use their own free speech to “combat objectionable ideas.” And so they do. But in order to truly combat ideas, one must first listen and engage with them — something these Holy Cross students seemed unwilling to do.

Aren’t college institutions meant to be places where students can challenge pre-existing view points and share a range of ideas? After all, it’s these principles that are at the core of our First Amendment right to free speech.

Perhaps the college’s students would still have disagreed with Mac Donald after her talk concluded — but if protesters continue to jump to action, rather than taking the time to listen first, the result will be to limit free speech to whomever can chant the loudest. Talk about oppression.

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