College Students and the Self-Censorship Dilemma


Dr. Chamlee-Wright’s Op-Ed Series at Forbes

As undergraduates settle into the fall semester on college campuses around the country, IHS President Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright explores the role self-censorship plays in higher education in this article for Forbes.

Dr. Chamlee-Wright opens with a recent Gallup poll that highlights the disparity between the current campus climate at school and students’ perceived freedom of expression and their beliefs. She notes that more than half of those surveyed feel their campus prevents them from expressing their views out of fear of potentially offending others.

It’s crucial that we understand why self-censorship is occurring, and that there is an important distinction between “herd culture” and students’ concerns over forging new, positive relationships with their peers.

“The university campus is a social space just as it is an intellectual space,” she notes. “Learning how to engage with others effectively is an essential part of developing one’s reasoning, critical thinking, and moral imagination. In other words, we need relationships as much as we need intellectual content if we are to achieve the ultimate end of a liberal education: human flourishing.”

Her advice? Educators can look to Adam Smith, the classical liberal scholar and author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith discusses the importance of mentally switching vantage points, or an “impartial spectator,” in crafting a moral compass for the self.

“Acquiring the impartial spectator is a developmental process,” says Dr. Chamlee-Wright. “Early on, we learn how to align our thoughts, words, and actions with the sentiments of our friends and the broader public. In other words, it’s in this early stage that we learn about civility and empathy.”

Ultimately, the concept of growth via intellectual risk-taking is a skill that can be learned and one that educators can help coach and foster within their students and their discussions. Dr. Chamlee-Wright believes this is imperative to higher education overall: “Now more than ever, college needs to be a place where students encounter and try out new ideas.”

You can view the full article on the Forbes website. For more information on free speech and civil discourse as well as additional writings by Dr. Chamlee-Wright, visit the Institute for Humane Studies website and blog.

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