Tension between the first amendment and Title IX have been bubbling beneath the surfaces of college campuses for years now. As debates rage about the concepts of safe spaces, trigger warnings and political correctness and their place in education, where students often benefit from being exposed to new perspectives and topics that can cause discomfort, the issue increases in complexity and public attention.
The issue came to a prominent head following the protests from UC Berkeley students against a planned talk from alt-right poster child Milo Yiannopoulos early in February. The students succeeded in their goal of preventing the talk, which came as Yiannopoulos faced a host of other controversies that led him to lose a book deal with Simon & Schuester and resign from his role as senior editor at Breitbart.
It has certainly been satisfying for those on the left-wing to see Yiannopoulis’ fall from favor, but it has also served as a rallying cry for those on the alt-right, who already see themselves as oppressed by liberal-fronted political correctness. The assumption of their position is that Yiannapoulous was attacked by liberal snowflakes, backed by Title IX who sought to silence him because they didn’t like what he was saying.
Title IX exists for the purposes of enforcing a learning environment in which students are supported and best capable of learning. Pitting this protection against free speech is illogical, given the fact that a healthy learning environment is one in which students of all backgrounds, perspectives and political persuasions feel comfortable expressing their opinions and engaging in rational discourse with their peers.
While Title IX and the first amendment are far from antithetical and can even be seen as partners in preparing and engaging students, the situation of political discourse on college campuses and in the world at large is a grim one. With Trump and his never-ending flow of controversial statements and actions at the helm of the conservative party, and with democrats doing little to redeem their party and connect with their base, there is no longer a healthy balance of conservatism and liberalism. Those on the left are seen as politically correct liberal snowflakes by those opposed to them and those on the right are seen as outrageous and dangerous to marginalized groups. Accusations of fascism fly literally left and right, having taken the place of any kind of rational dialogue.
Despite this difficulty, it’s more important than ever for students, regardless of politics, to “reach across the aisle” and see the logic and humanity behind positions opposed to theirs. On progressive campuses in particular, such as Mills, it’s easy for the popular opinion to become the dominant one, which is antithetical to the concept of critically thinking and interacting with the world. It’s important for individuals to have their own opinions and feel free to express them.
However, there is a point at which an opinion ceases to be just that and at which it becomes detrimental to the well-being of other people. Opposing dangerous positions and rhetoric is necessary, and for those holding harmful positions, it may feel like oppression when their positions are vehemently fought back against. But the fact is, any opinion expressed in public is subject to public discourse and even public outcry. Without logic or rationality to back up these positions, it can feel like even more of an attack. This isn’t the same as silencing, however. Logic and rationality exist in the court of public opinion, and speech that harms others while failing to hold up these intellectual standards is bound to be challenged.