College should be a safe place to say what’s on your mind

Jordan Reid is the founding editor of Ramshackle Glam.
Liberal Opinion

Jordan Reid

Author; Founding Editor, Ramshackle Glam
Archive |

Anyone say something dumb as a college student? It’s certainly expected, given most kids start college at age 18–before they’ve had a chance to fully develop their own ideas and opinions. Lately, it appears there’s no grace for these kids, not to mention their professors, as cancel culture is on the rise on campuses. We’ve seen professors silenced and students who are afraid to talk. It’s an issue that’s sparking debate on both sides of the aisle, but all is not lost. Students are coming up with unique solutions that provide safe space for all opinions.

Isn’t that what college is for? To give voice to your opinions, to hear differing opinions voiced by others, and to allow your perspective on the world to grow accordingly? 

So, what’s creating all of this angst?

Just last year, a University of Rochester professor was suspended after quoting a text containing a racial slur, and MIT canceled a lecture by a speaker who’d openly criticized inclusion initiatives. Since 2019, state legislators have introduced nearly 100 bills aimed at protecting free speech on campuses.

And what’s the answer?

Increasingly, independent groups encouraging civil, open dialogue are popping up on campuses nationwide, giving students a relatively safe space to explore the balance between free speech and inclusivity.

Some even make a point of electing group leaders who represent differing political ideologies.

As an example, a dialogue club called WeListen at the University of Michigan meets a few times a semester to discuss issues such as drug legalization and criminal justice reform and send out both nonpartisan and bipartisan talking points to members in advance. They set out ground rules including “Challenge the idea, not the person.”

The conversations can become uncomfortable, of course…but is that a bad thing? 

Our nation has become so divided along partisan lines that it can be hard to have even the most fundamentally constructive conversation with someone from the other side.

We’ve developed knee-jerk reactions to differing opinions that border on the hostile. 

So it’s heartening to see that the next generation has accurately pinpointed the problem, and is taking concrete, valuable steps to rectify it. 

The kids, it seems, might be alright after all. 

I’ve been trying to come up with a list of the dumb things I’ve said in college to tell you here…and I can’t. It’s too long. Dumb is even putting it lightly. 

I entered college as a privileged, nominally liberal white girl from a major metropolitan area whose experience with politics extended to the belief that I should say I was Canadian when I visited Europe in the months following our entry into the war in Afghanistan.

I thought I had opinions, but a significant number of them were…shall we say…uninformed.

I truly shudder to think what I would have said about systemic racism had I been asked to opine on the topic in my African American history class – which was, incredibly, taught by Cornel West himself.

I’m not saying I would have argued against the existence of systemic racism, but I didn’t know much about it. Chances are I would have said something hovering between ignorant and offensive, simply because I was eighteen, and had no idea what I was talking about. 

Which is…okay.

I mean, isn’t that what college is for? To give voice to your opinions, to hear differing opinions voiced by others, and to allow your perspective on the world to grow accordingly? 

Alas, that’s not the experience that many of today’s college students are getting.

When I speak to friends with college-aged students, one fascinating – and troubling – through line is there. The kids are afraid to talk. They’re afraid that if they put their thoughts the wrong way – use a word that isn’t the currently acceptable word for, say, a minority or an LGBTQ person (and you have to admit that the vernacular is evolving in this realm), they’ll be mocked…or, worse, canceled.

And if they have an opinion that differs from the classroom majority? Yikes. 

It’s not a liberal issue or a conservative one – it’s everywhere.

Kids are afraid to challenge their peers in the very spaces that exist to foster those uncomfortable discussions, and the resultant growth.

Evidence supporting their fears is everywhere. Just last year, a University of Rochester professor was suspended after quoting a text containing a racial slur, and MIT canceled a lecture by a speaker who’d openly criticized inclusion initiatives. Since 2019, state legislators have introduced nearly 100 bills aimed at protecting free speech on campuses.

But all is not lost, despite the alarm-ringing by many pundits on both sides of the aisle. Increasingly, independent groups encouraging civil, open dialogue are popping up on campuses nationwide, giving students a relatively safe space to explore the balance between free speech and inclusivity.

Some even make a point of electing group leaders who represent differing political ideologies. 

As an example, a dialogue club called WeListen at the University of Michigan meets a few times a semester to discuss issues such as drug legalization and criminal justice reform, and send out both nonpartisan and bipartisan talking points to members in advance. They set out ground rules including “Challenge the idea, not the person.”

The conversations can become uncomfortable, of course…but is that a bad thing? 

Our nation has become so divided along partisan lines that it can be hard to have even the most fundamentally constructive conversation with someone from the other side.

We’ve developed knee-jerk reactions to differing opinions that border on the hostile. 

So it’s heartening to see that the next generation has accurately pinpointed the problem, and is taking concrete, valuable steps to rectify it. The kids, it seems, might be alright after all. 


Get unbiased straight facts, context, and perspective!