By Andrew Dargie
The student body at Stanford University is exceptional for its diversity. The varied backgrounds, ethnicities, interests, educational experiences, opinions, beliefs, and political ideologies of both the professors and the students enrich the university and contribute to Stanford’s outstanding reputation. Hallmark of liberalism include tolerance, acceptance, and inclusiveness. Ironically, however, ‘liberalism’ can be used to silence the opinions of others. I have witnessed students make comments that are not derogatory or disparaging but are simply remarks that reflect a position on a political issue that have resulted in angry and overwhelming responses from people who feel differently. These are coming from people who would describe themselves as true liberals.
Consider the event Secret Snowflake that occurred in the Fall. It was my opinion that some of the events were highly offensive and just in very poor taste. Since then I have spoken with a number of other students who like me found many of the activities extremely inappropriate. Here’s the problem. Somehow some of us felt that we could not criticize the event and voice our opinions.
Generally speaking liberals tend to pride themselves on being open minded. This is not a bad thing. A good university experience means that we will be exposed to new ideas, experiences, people, and even events like the Secret Snowflake that will challenge us in many ways. Challenge us to think for ourselves and decide what kind of people we are going to be. The success of the challenge, however, will depend on how freely we can express and discuss our reactions, feelings, and ideas about what we learn and experience – even when those opinions may go against the majority. I can’t help but think back to my first IHUM paper on the 19th Century British philosopher John Stuart Mill, whose work On Liberty greatly shaped and contributed to liberal ideas. Mill adamantly defended every person’s right to freedom of speech and argued that opinions should not be suppressed but vigorously debated and discussed.
Much of my experience so far is that Stanford values its rich mosaic of opinions and beliefs, and it encourages individuals to express their ideas and opinions so that they might be debated and discussed. In such a setting it is unsettling when you feel restricted. I see some students with ‘conservative’ views getting a really bad rap from ‘liberals’ for being closed minded and insensitive to others. Sometimes they are justified in thinking in this way..However, I also believe that if ‘liberals’ really believe in the importance of free speech and inclusiveness, then they must be careful not to present their opinions and ideas as the only right ones or the only truth. They need to be careful that they don’t inadvertently suppress ideas and opinions because this would certainly constitute liberal hypocrisy.