“Free speech is based on a very humble premise: that we all may be wrong. If we can get beyond this deep and abiding fear that we aren’t always correct, and that we aren’t particularly clever, we open ourselves to a new perspective. That’s where learning begins.
“The place that should embody that more than anywhere else is higher education. But too often, we aren’t listening. We have forgotten how to debate. We have forgotten how to disagree. And the more I think about that, the more I worry.”
— Greg Lukianoff, president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, during a Feb. 4 Speaker Series program at Penn State Behrend.
Lukianoff, the bestselling author of “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure,” has led a 20-year fight against campus speech codes and cordoned “protest zones.” As FIRE’s first director of legal and public advocacy, and now as the group’s president, he defends students and faculty members who face discipline for political, religious or offensive — but still protected — speech.
In his book, and in testimony before the U.S. Senate, Lukianoff argued that trigger warnings, “safe spaces” and other efforts to manage difficult topics do students a disservice.
“We are giving a generation of students absolutely awful advice,” he said at Penn State Behrend. “When we say, ‘Your feelings are always right,’ or, ‘If something makes you uncomfortable, then it must be wrong,’ we are telling students that they are more fragile, and less independent, than they actually are.
“We hear a lot about post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said. “We don’t hear nearly as much about post-traumatic growth, though that’s a thing, too. People who go through traumas often come out the other side stronger, and thinking they learned from the experience.
“We are teaching students that the damage they feel is going to last forever,” he said, “and that’s not always the case.”