As the school year begins for returning college students, it’s easy to lose the excitement and anticipation that comes with your first year in higher education. For conservative students especially, that first-year glow can fade even faster when intellectual curiosity collides with the reality of viewpoint discrimination.
First, recognize that the biggest threats to free speech are self-censorship and complacency.
Conceding to these temptations often disheartens students throughout their college experiences. Students often regret being too deferential or agreeable during important debates and discussions. The university environment can easily dissuade you from speaking or make you feel isolated and unsafe if you express your conservative viewpoints. It’s important to be courageous and share your beliefs in the face of opposition.
Second, reject the desire to keep your head down until your four years are over.
You are not alone, and your actions may inspire other students who are too afraid to speak up. Challenge harmful school policies, share your experiences on social media and with your local Campus Reform reporter, publish articles in your campus newspaper, or launch a social media campaign.
Throughout all this, don’t forget to reach out to Speech First—an organization dedicated to protecting free speech on college campuses across the country, where I serve as executive director—and tell us your story.
Third, strengthen your arguments.
Extensively research the issues you are passionate about and the beliefs you wish to defend in class or in campus debates. It is not enough to rely on the progressive left’s arguments to be baseless—even though they often are—because your progressive counterparts will accuse you of being insensitive, racist, or bigoted.
No matter how false these accusations are, they create the illusion of a winning argument—unless you know how to defeat them. Know the arguments you want to make and know the counterarguments others will raise.
Study rhetoric, with a special focus on famous rhetoricians and debaters. Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Richard Weaver, and William F. Buckley Jr. are all renowned for their mastery of the English language and their ability to convince and move others with speech. A good argument not only engages listeners, but also inspires them. One of the best ways to win a debate is to inspire listeners to think beyond the confines of the familiar arguments.
Fourth, get involved with extracurriculars.
Join groups and stay involved with extracurriculars that develop your speaking, organizing, leading, and activism skills. Find a local Toastmaster chapter, charter a club, or start an organization that focuses on the issues you are most passionate about.
Fifth, learn about your school’s policies and your constitutional rights.
This will help you recognize when your campus has overreached. Go deep into the history of free speech in America and how it has come under attack. Take a look at Speech First’s recommended reading list on these issues.
Read George Orwell and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and other literature about societies that were lured into despotic or tyrannical rule. These works are great reminders about how easy it is for educated societies to fall into these situations and how difficult it is to recover from them.
Sixth, channel your inner-Churchill.
“Never give in. Never give in,” Churchill said. “Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
You will face many challenges on campus. Don’t let these experiences dim your inspiration. Instead, let them motivate you to overcome them. Universities will try to convince you that you are operating in their world—an environment only they control. It is up to you to remind them they are not excluded from America’s culture of free speech and free expression.
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