Earlier this month, the New York Post published a recent report that ranked Harvard as the very worst college campus in America for free speech. The article details the annual rankings by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a non-profit seeking to protect speech rights in America. FIRE’s annual report on freedom of speech at college campuses uses a variety of methods to rank 254 colleges nationwide, including the school’s free speech policies, whether community members have been disciplined or targeted, if administrators ever stand up to defend free speech, and a student survey with over 55,000 participants. These and other factors are used to calculate a “score” for each school, ranking the speech climates across varying campuses.
Harvard, the world’s most renowned academic institution, scored the worst out of every school with a zero out of a 100-point scale. The second to last? University of Pennsylvania with a score of 11.13. While Harvard is not exactly known for being the most conducive school for free speech in America, is it really the worst?
Freedom of speech on college campuses has become such a common topic in the news that it feels like a catchphrase. As such, the question of what it really means for a campus to facilitate discourse has become rather lucrative. Of course, a student or faculty member at Harvard can say or write anything they wish, but few members of the community are quite so naïve. In the past year, nine professors and researchers faced demands to be fired because of something they had said or written, and seven out of those nine faced professional consequences (FIRE).
I have found infringement on my speech at Harvard to be more about what I am expected to say than what I cannot say. Of course, the list of things you are better off avoiding in conversation is extensive, but the choice to do so or not is free. Words and actions come with consequences, so many people self-censor simply because they do not wish to argue or be casually labeled with an overused descriptor.
Here, the lack of freedom of speech relates less to what I shouldn’t say, and more to what I must say. This side of freedom pertains to those things which we are expected to say, regardless of whether we wish to or not. So-called affirmations of identity, belief, and other people’s choices are expected to be shared. Requiring students to share personal pronouns is not free speech, it is compelled speech. While any person is free to share what they wish to be called, others should also be free not to participate.
Whenever I am asked my pronouns, what I wish I could answer with is nothing. Why am I forced to subscribe — with action — to someone else’s personal beliefs, or be accused as a hater or bigot? I do not hate these people’s beliefs, nor I do not care what you believe you are, I just do not share the same opinion and do not believe I should be required to exercise my speech in accordance.
To reverse the example, I personally choose not to curse, but I do not force others not to — they are free to speak as they wish. It doesn’t offend me either. I am confident in my own position, so I am unaffected by the positions of others. Why would their choice offend me? It doesn’t physically harm me, and it doesn’t rob me of my own rights to speak, live, or worship freely. If everyone forced their own beliefs on each other, who could possibly speak? When some voices are amplified and others are forced to participate, speech is no longer free.
The most visible imposition on speech at Harvard is against controversial speakers. The people who wish to judge the morality of intellectual speakers to such an extent as to violently protest them are so self-righteous that they value exclusively their own opinions. These are the same people who fight the loudest for social equity. A proclaimed conviction for justice and equality is exposed as a deeper belief that only one set of beliefs is acceptable, and all others should be forcibly suppressed.
One of the most damning pieces of evidence is that 27% of students in the bottom five ranked schools of FIRE’s report believe it is acceptable to use violence to stop campus speech, and 45% say that it is acceptable to block other students from attending a speech. By the numbers alone, this is glaring evidence that students do not believe that others should have the freedom to speak or listen how they wish.
I recently passed a sign in Harvard Square that asked, “How tightly should hateful speech be regulated on campus?” My response is, who exactly defines subjects and speakers who are hateful? One member of the community might consider a pro-life speaker to be hateful, while another might view a pro-choice activist as hateful. Isn’t that the whole point of free speech and thought? One person should not get to decide who and what is morally superior and worthy of being heard, rather, the community gets to show its support through attendance.
Finally, the most embarrassing and predictable part of the entire FIRE report is that the Harvard Administration has proven it will not stand up and defend free speech on its campus. It was penalized for such a lack of action in the scoring system. By ignoring the issue at hand, Harvard assumes that protecting free speech is no longer relevant — proof of just how much of a reality speech suppression has become. For an institution that holds such intellectual power, earned through the claims of true exploratory research and diversity of thought, it proves over and over that this is a fallacious shell. Its intentions are clear — indoctrinate rather than educate; force scientific conclusions that support political narratives; and silence anyone whose intellect and voice stand in the way of these goals.
Elsie Halvorsen is a senior at Harvard College, class of 2024.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.