Why free speech matters to all of us

Lucas Carter, For the Review

My last two months at Linfield has been stressful as many of you who know me personally may know. Followers of my club and myself have been continually vilified by members of the Linfield community for inviting Dr. Jordan Peterson to campus to speak on free speech and this was enhanced by the media attention. Since the inception of the event we’ve been accused of Nazism, white supremacy, misogyny, and more. At one point, the club’s leadership, just three of us, were gathered at a “free speech discussion” event held by the campus’s diversity committee which ultimately delved into 50+ of the Linfield community putting us on trial for three-straight hours accusing us of such things. The event left me unable to eat for two days.

Regarding the controversies surrounding my club on the topic of free speech, I’ve been relatively quiet— Acting as a neutral figure in discussion with many of my classmates, professors, and administrators— And for good reasons as denoted in the previous paragraph. Despite all this I’ve been treated with respect, that is, riding on the respect I’ve earned from my peers over my two years in Oregon. Everyone understands that I’m not a racist and misogynist neo-Nazi. Many of the people that support the club’s ideas, not so much. We’ve had faculty and students openly accuse us of frivolous things and essentially bully us, but that only gave us more reason to fight.

As I’ve expressed numerous times, I started the club to help the community as a whole, not to indoctrinate libertarian ideologies. At Linfield, and many college campuses nationwide, there has been an awkward and hateful stigma that divided communities and silenced many voices from all sides of the ideological and identity spectrum. People have become more polarized than we’ve seen and virtually all parties felt a sense of discrimination. Yes, it’s possible for more than one side to be discriminated. This is an issue that goes beyond race and gender— It affects all of us as individuals.

I, and the club’s leadership, desired to create a future for Linfield’s culture where diversity of opinions can be expressed with little-to-no fear. We believe that the concepts of free speech and challenging ideas are key to fostering an environment where we can intellectually grow and empower ourselves as we learn more about the world. As a culture, we’ve lost the ability to accept diversity of ideas and opinions. If there is error in a stance then let it be struck down with reason and logic. Only an environment of free-flowing information can foster this. That is why we did what we did and we have absolutely no regrets whatsoever.

Two months later from the “trial,” the administration and the DAC held another, even bigger, free speech discussion event. It was a significant improvement: Voices of all kinds of viewpoints and backgrounds came out to openly discuss their views on things and it was all done in a civil manner with respect to one another. It was a productive event and ultimately helped the community. It was an overall success and it was night-and-day from the abuse we experienced at the “trial.” Among other things, a conservative equivalent to Young Americans for Liberty, known as Turning Point USA, has spruced up on campus and there is word that a democratic socialist club is in the works. This is exactly what we wanted and we couldn’t be any more proud to have pushed Linfield’s culture in this direction to be able to discuss such variety of views. That is true diversity. Relating back to the previous paragraph: It might’ve been a bumpy road, but our activism ultimately paid off and helped foster a culture of respect for the Linfield community. Of course, it’s impossible to measure the club’s cultural impact, but it’s undeniable that these are signs of a changing shift in Linfield’s culture for the better.

Yes, the author is conservative, but the article I linked discusses safe spaces beyond the scope of the campus context: We all live in our own safe spaces. It could be my conservative father that lives on Fox News, a leftist that lives on MSNBC, or even a libertarian that listens to just Ron Paul. It could be someone that’s too scared to attend, say, an art class out of societal pressures. It could be someone that’s scared to follow their dreams out of fear. This idea of safe spaces goes beyond the campus definition. Personally, I’ve lived in a “safe space” my entire life: the comfort of my home of 20 years in Florida. As Dr. Peterson claimed at his banned lecture, “Learning is allowing a piece of yourself to die,” and I believe that’s what makes these issues so difficult to speak about and I experienced this first hand when I moved here.

These beliefs I hold delve into my personal search of truth and meaning—much like what we all experience in life. People wonder why I moved out here for my last two years of college, I wanted to leave my “safe space” and experience new things to spread my wings. Of course, my thoughts 2-3 years ago weren’t in those words but it was the general gist of it. The article states, “… Where are the checks and balances in our own thinking — the check that whispers, “You could be wrong”; the balance that suggests, “There’s another way of thinking about it?,” and to experience a new perspective was why I wanted to have this mild culture shock.

In the beginning, it wasn’t easy. The mountains and the altitude made me claustrophobic– I felt like I was always in a bowl. I had little money, no car, and I was depressed throughout my first summer in Oregon. I left all my friends and connections behind to do this, two semi-close friends under the age of 19 passed away within my first year here and that in itself was definitely not easy.

These two years have continually forced me to challenge myself and learn new things. Living my life in an environment that voted 90% Trump then experiencing life in Bernie-nation taught me new perspectives. I’ve done so much here and there is so much to tell my Florida friends when I come back. As these two years have passed, typing this out 12 days from graduation and 19 days from flying back, I can confidently say that I’m more than happy to have taken the risk and moved out here. I grew up significantly, to the point that I fear my Florida friends won’t see me as the same old Lucas.

And that is why I care about free speech.

[Originally posted on my personal facebook account on May 16th, 2017 with a link to the following opinion article by New York Times columnist Bret Stephens. Post edited to fit The Linfield Review’s formatting, context, and grammatical touch-ups.]