Fear of the First Amendment in higher education

REBECCA REINGOLD ’17

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

An individual right, the First Amendment is one of the most favored and protected rights implemented in our Constitution. Valued and commonly referenced in many court cases, the First Amendment clearly has a major effect on how Americans go about their daily lives. More specifically, practicing our freedom of speech and expression is one of our most powerful rights as Americans. We have the ability to say whatever we want without fear of persecution. Our right to Free Speech is precisely what our forefathers felt would be pivotal in the prosperity of American governance. As an American, appreciating this precious right goes underappreciated when our nation continuously judges and shames certain aspects of American life.

On both ends of the political spectrum, college campuses frown upon certain uses of this individual right. Yes, we are allowed to say what we want to say and be who we want to be but that does not necessarily determine what we are saying and who we are being.

College campuses allow students to express themselves and say what they feel freely. However, this choice of freedom comes with consequences. With every action and every word said, there is no denying that, in our day and age, we constantly feel as though Big Brother is watching. In this case, it is not unusual for college students to feel pressured and cautious when freely speaking. Whether it’s writing a paper for a politically biased professor or trying to express a genuine opinion to a higher authority without being absolutely shut down, college students surely have a difficult time practicing their First Amendment rights.

Generally speaking, Americans are perpetually criticized for anything they may say that expresses any sort of biased opinion. In fact, this article itself could receive an immense amount of criticism either from higher authorities on campus or even from peers who simply disagree. Disagreeing is perfectly okay, receiving consequences is not. When writing a politically opinionated paper assigned by a politically biased professor, it is immensely difficult to accurately express your honest opinion without fear of being subtly penalized for that exact reason. A professor might not state the reason behind taking points off of your passionate opinion, but they will pretend that your “facts” are not “backed up,” and use that as an excuse to take points off, when the reality is that they simply disagree. Of course, there are plenty of unbiased professors who appreciate your honest opinion. However, this gets discredited when students are so accustomed to the penalization of biased professors.

In addition, with our generation becoming increasingly sensitive to a variety of topics going on in the world, it is also difficult for certain organizations or individuals to express their opinion of these matters.

With our politically correct culture on the rise, many students fear saying anything that could not only land them a bad reputation, but even a more serious consequence. If burning the American flag is considered legal and receives no consequential action under our First Amendment right, than why do college students receive the most fire when expressing their personal opinions? Or organizing a peaceful demonstration? Being opinionated makes it difficult to know how to argue my own personal point when I feel so compelled to argue a point that I truly do not believe in. Living in fear that my own opinion is what can actually harm me instead of further educate me is almost the opposite of what I was looking for when applying to college.

Having been penalized and disliked by a handful of teachers and professors throughout high school and college has made me fear my First Amendment Right. Even to my peers, when they disagree with what I say, I feel like a terrible person.

Hate crimes are one thing and entirely different from the point I am trying to prove. Our list of politically correct statements is becoming longer and more confusing to the point that writing this opinion article leaves me in fear that I might be attacked for simply expressing myself. Respecting another person’s opinion and allowing them to speak freely is exactly what our forefathers intended when drafting our Constitution and our Declaration of Independence.

Political bias aside, listening to other points of view and the reasoning behind them is exactly what helps college students grow and prosper as humans. It’s what allows us to separate from whatever bias we have at home. When a student is afraid to express their opinion because it might be considered politically incorrect or “wrong” in a higher authority’s eyes is exactly the issue we college students are facing.

What I believe in and what I think is right may not necessarily be what is best, but it is my opinion and I should be allowed to express this opinion without fearing a consequence.

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