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“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,” states Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her biography of Voltaire, summarizing the philosopher’s attitude toward free speech and its necessity in a democratic society. The free speech of which Hall writes is a contentious issue in the United States today, but nowhere is it more heavily contested – or of such importance – than on the college campus, that zenith of knowledge which students attend in pursuit of greater world understanding and workforce preparation. Many colleges attempt to deny students their right to free speech – arguably unconstitutionally – by confining them to ‘free speech zones’ or imposing additional fees on student clubs they wish to silence. Free speech is an inalienable right of the American people, and it must remain just as inalienable a right of college students for them to become the informed, reasonable, and contributing citizens responsible for ensuring America’s continuation as a free nation. Any attempt to stifle a free exchange of opinions among students, their peers, and their professors denies students the opportunity to grow in their worldviews, to analyze and respond to viewpoints different than their own, or to participate in a diverse and free-thinking society.One of the primary purposes of higher education is to develop educated citizens who graduate with the ability to engage in civil discourse and contribute to the global, national, and local conversations affecting them and their fellow citizens. The other primary purpose is to prepare students for the workforce. Free speech benefits the first of these purposes by stimulating informed discourse and providing students the opportunity to develop and take ownership of their convictions. Men and women presented with the challenge of engaging cultures, values, and convictions different than their own are men and women presented with the opportunity to grow in their understanding of their fellow brothers and sisters. They have the opportunity to become men and women who are informed, rational, capable, and wise citizens, ready and willing to stand behind their thought-out convictions, defending them in a manner that is intelligent, informed, and considerate of positions other than their own. Even unpopular “hate speech” must be protected on college campuses, for it provides students with necessary experience interacting with antagonism in the real world. Sheltering students from hate speech under the misbelief that the First Amendment prohibits it effectively denies students the opportunity to experience a democratic environment. Those who support the prohibition of hate speech fail to understand that the restrictions they support on others’ freedoms can easily become restrictions on their own. Free speech is integral to the continuation of higher education’s main purposes – preparation for citizenship and training for the workforce, as it allows students to encounter and express various opinions in an open setting and learn appropriate methods to evaluate and engage others’ convictions while forming and defending their own.Sarah DuncanFIRE Free Speech Essay Contest31 December 2017Standing opposed to freedom of speech, censorship in higher education prevents candid discourse by intimidating students and professors from expressing their convictions, no matter how adeptly they may be able to defend them, due to the potential of their convictions to offend. If unpopular viewpoints are suppressed for fear of inciting counteraction, the most popular, promoted perspective alone is allowed to spread – at the expense of silencing all others. Fear of punishment enables censorship to persist, as it prevents minorities from expressing their views and instead allows a single opinion to become law. The issues at the center of these opinions are usually complex, moral, and unable to be answered fully without the combined insight of multiple perspectives. Liberal education aims to instruct students in a variety of disciplines, assisting them in their journeys to mature adult lives; however, one is forced to ask: if classroom instruction is censored and conversation about controversial topics is banned, how well rounded can a liberal education truly be? Censorship entrusts the determination of morality to a single entity, presuming that such an entity has the right to make such personal determinations for the rest of its citizens – or students. The purpose of higher education is to prepare students for the real world, a world in which justice is imperfect, opinions do differ, and some aspects of society do need to change while others are best left untouched. Each person, however, exerts his or her free will when he or she acts as an agent of change, furthering the ideals of truth, justice, and equality. American institutions of higher education must be held accountable to free speech, allowing their students the privilege of learning freely and trusting them with the honor of engaging current issues, forming their own opinions about them, coming to their own educated conclusions, and deciding their part in taking a stand for or against such issues.Institutions of higher education must promote free speech in all its forms and equip students to engage difficult topics with an open mind, respect for their fellow human, and deep dedication to justice. Free speech is the greatest indicator of a democratic society and the foundation for liberal education; as such, it must be prized for its intrinsic value to the human soul and esteemed as a fundamental right for every college student and future contributing citizen of America.

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