The benefits to getting students out of their ideological comfort zone
Last week, the Alberta United Conservative Party (UCP) government unveiled a policy promise that would set rules for who and what is allowed in post-secondary classrooms. The UCP government has framed this policy as a protection for free speech and open discussion in class.
The policy, based off a set of rules adopted by the University of Chicago in 2014 called “the Chicago Principles,” will allow protesters to say whatever they like on university campuses in Alberta — no matter how “unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive” the statements are. It also recommends universities punish students whose protesting “significantly interferes with the ability for an event to proceed.”
In a letter following the principles being published, the dean of the University of Chicago clarified that the principles do not support “intellectual safe spaces” or “trigger warnings.”
Essentially, this is a proposed policy that’s been brewing for a while in Alberta. It stems from the fear that universities are defining their own parameters for free speech on their own terms through things like “safe spaces,” and therefore promoting an ideological agenda.
However, there is a certain inherent privilege that comes with advancing the assertion that all speech should be free — without any restrictions, this opens campuses up to perpetuating messages of oppression and violence towards marginalized groups.
As a campus newspaper, we have certain guidelines on what we will and will not print. Our mandate dictates that as “an agent of constructive social change, and will not publish racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise oppressive copy.”
We feel it is important to provide a platform for diverse — but not oppressive — speech, including that which challenge our own perspectives.
Both UVic and the UVSS have also set a precedent for limiting the language displayed on campus in recent years.
Just two years ago, a white board was constructed outside the Student Union Building and inscribed with the words, “How do you challenge white supremacy?” After a few days, it was covered with everything from “Smash the patriarchy” and “Advocating decolonization,” to racist slurs, “Hitler did nothing wrong,” and a swastika. The board was painted over and taken down within days of its construction, on the demand of an official notice from the UVSS.
Similarly, UVic had to cover up a chalkboard in the front hall of the library due to racist messages last November.
Following that incident, Shailoo Bedi, Director of Academic Commons and Strategic Assessment at University of Victoria Libraries, said, “UVic has made it very clear that ours is a welcoming and inclusive campus and that we will not tolerate messages that affect the well-being of our campus members.”
When it comes to what voices should and should not be given a platform on university campuses, hate speech should not be welcome in any capacity.
Just because hate speech is banned doesn’t mean we can’t continue to be self-aware and self-critical about the language we use. Words like reconciliation, sustainability, and diversity seem to get thrown around so often that they start to lose their meaning on our campus. While it is important to maintain a safe learning environment for all students, we must also continue to push ourselves ideologically outside of our comfort zones.
But Alberta — and dare we say, Jason Kenney — may have a point. The policies proposed by the UCP may force us all to question what ideological stances we’ve simply accepted on campus. If our universities are meant to be spaces for discussion and critical thinking, we have to be open to questioning the university itself and aware of the ways in which our own biases influence the opinions we bring into the classroom.
In the University of Chicago report, a quote is included from American historian and former university president Hanna Holborn Gray to stress the importance of allowing for open discourse.
“Education should not be intended to make people comfortable,” said Gray. “It is meant to make them think.”