Liberal college student decries stifling of campus free speech in NY Times essay: ‘I sometimes feel afraid’

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A self-described liberal college student is speaking out on what she calls the stifling of free speech on her university campus, leading students to fear speaking their minds and engaging in open debate.

In a Monday guest essay for The New York Times, University of Virginia senior Emma Camp wrote that her college experience had been defined by “strict ideological conformity,” described negative experiences she, as well as other students, had been subject to for giving non-conforming opinions, and implored universities to take action against the restriction of ideas and speech on campus.

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“I went to college to learn from my professors and peers. I welcomed an environment that champions intellectual diversity and rigorous disagreement. Instead, my college experience has been defined by strict ideological conformity,” Camp wrote. 

“Students of all political persuasions hold back — in class discussions, in friendly conversations, on social media — from saying what we really think. Even as a liberal who has attended abortion rights protests and written about standing up to racism, I sometimes feel afraid to fully speak my mind,” she added. 

Camp wrote that many students had stopped voicing their opinions in the classroom because backlash against “unpopular” ones was now commonplace. She stated some students feared lower grades in their classes if they didn’t censor themselves. She detailed a number of instances involving her and other students expressing an opinion that a majority of their classmates disagreed with, noting the “uneasy” feeling that followed, as well as the subsequent desire to participate less in discussions. 

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 8: Students walk across The Lawn as in-person classes are underway at the University of Virginia on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. 

UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 8: Students walk across The Lawn as in-person classes are underway at the University of Virginia on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. 
(Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

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Camp noted another student who identified as a conservative and sometimes “straight-up lied” about his beliefs to avoid clashing with others.

“Our universities cannot change our social interactions. But they can foster appreciation for ideological diversity in academic environments,” Camp wrote. “Universities must do more than make public statements supporting free expression. We need a campus culture that prioritizes ideological diversity and strong policies that protect expression in the classroom.”

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - DECEMBER 6:  Garrett Durig, a fourth year student at the University of Virginia, walks across campus on December 6, 2014 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Jay Paul/Getty Images)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – DECEMBER 6:  Garrett Durig, a fourth year student at the University of Virginia, walks across campus on December 6, 2014 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Jay Paul/Getty Images)
(2014 Getty Images)

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She implored universities to stop canceling “controversial speakers” and caving to “unreasonable student demands,” adding they should also reward intellectual diversity in the classroom and discard restrictive speech codes.

“We cannot experience the full benefits of a university education without having our ideas challenged, yet challenged in ways that allow us to grow,” Camp wrote.

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