The Worthwhile Cost of Cornell’s Pursuit of Free Expression

Veritas Culture
8 min readApr 18

If you click on the above link, you’ll read about an effort at Cornell University to promote freedom of expression. This comes on the heels of a visit to the school by Ann Coulter and the University’s denial of a request to adopt a student resolution that would have required “trigger warnings”.

In support of the freedom of expression effort, President Martha E. Pollack said, “Learning from difference, learning to engage with difference and learning to communicate across difference are key parts of a Cornell education. Free expression and academic freedom are the bedrock not just of the university, but of democracy.”

And…the ideals behind this quote can conflict with the ideals behind another quote by James Baldwin, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

All of which begs the question: Is it that people should learn to engage with people who think differently, or is it that those differences and disagreements are rooted in oppression and deny people their humanity and right to exist?

Let’s say:

  • A college professor initiates a conversation about whether Black people can be racist.
  • Several participants express that Black people can be racist and cite definitions of racism in Oxford and Merriam-Webster as reasons.
  • Several participants pushback on this citing that definitions were written by oppressors and that racism only exists where there is prejudice plus power.
  • The participants who pushback demand the conversation end, citing traumatism and racism as the reasons. Think: “I am tired of white people talking like they know anything about racism. And I end up having to relive my own experiences to demonstrate and prove the mere existence of racism — to people who know nothing about it, no less.”
  • The participants who cite textbook definitions demand the…
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