Free Speech Becoming a PR Crisis for Colleges
America’s University system has always been a place where preconceived ideas are challenged and new ideas are given the opportunity to be tested and found reliable or wanting. From research labs testing scientific hypotheses to philosophy classes testing methods of thought and determination, college was where you went to run your opinions through the wringer and find out what they were made of.
Until recently, that is. Increasingly, across the nation, college students attempt to put the faculty on notice. They won’t tolerate ideas or speech that offends, distracts or emotionally “triggers” them. Because the Internet loves a controversy and social media feeds on drama, these tools have become certain weapons of war in a cultural battle that figuratively chops away at the heads of various prestigious institutes of higher learning.
The latest casualty? Princeton. This Ivy League bastion, continually rated in the top five in the nation, is not the place you might think this sort of intellectual anarchy would take hold. But now it is, and it’s happening in a way that has focused the eyes of the nation on the school … and a lesser-known former POTUS.
Princeton University students are demanding the University remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from various buildings on the campus, because according to the aggrieved students, who, admittedly, never met Wilson, are convinced he was racist.
Finally, some other students are fighting back, providing an opportunity to actually allow this debate to play out, both on campus and across the nation in a public relations context.
Those who opposes the removal of Wilson freely admit he was a “flawed man”, but stop short of saying these flaws should rewrite history. The 28th U.S. president did many good things for the school and the nation. They argue that thinking people can acknowledge the “sins of our ancestors” without whitewashing history.
Simply stating the obvious – that all people are flawed – has enraged those looking to scrub Wilson’s legacy from Princeton. Allegations of racism have been leveled at just about anyone who dares question the demanded removal of Wilson.
The debate, which many outside the university system have called absurd, is part of a larger national dialogue that, to date, has been mostly shouting. The side that chooses to connect rather than condescend has the greater chance of gaining heavier support outside their particular group. It should be interesting to see who figures this out first.