The students of Real Talk Dartmouth also made a poor choice, and not simply because they alienated what appears to be a significant percentage of Dartmouth students. Disrupting an event is not the same as engaging in free speech. While there should be some breathing room for minor heckling and vehement audience response to speakers, a five-minute-long hijacking of someone else’s event in order to spread your own message is unacceptable. Yet the administration seems to be treating the disruptive protesters with kid gloves.
This January, Dartmouth went into an uproar and launched an investigation by college cops and administrators when “[t]wo students reported that another student walked by them, made eye contact and verbally harassed them by speaking gibberish that was perceived to be mock Chinese.” Should Dartmouth have canceled classes after that incident? (It didn’t.) If not, why not? What’s worse about this one? And will classes be canceled the next time someone says mean things on the Internet? The fact is that people are always going to say things that someone will find unpleasant or offensive. There’s only one solution to this situation: All parties involved need to grow up and start taking a mature, adult attitude toward free speech by realizing that part of life is having to hear things you wish you hadn’t.
Robert Shibley is the senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).