Student Self-Censorship Is Driven by Fear Amidst a Toxic Environment | Opinion

Student self-censorship on college campuses shows how we are preparing the next generation for a fear-based society. According to a recent report published by RealClearEducation, which surveyed over 4,600 students who participate in Greek life on over 500 campuses, 60 percent of students felt uncomfortable "publicly disagreeing with their professors" and 50 percent "felt they could not express their opinions on a subject because of how students, a professor or the administration would respond."

This isn't the first time we have heard about students who are afraid to speak up on campus—and unfortunately, it doesn't look like it will be the last. Students, just like anyone, will calculate how they should act and what they should say in order to protect themselves from any potential consequences they prefer to avoid. Lately, the most negative consequences have been reserved for violations of the unspoken rule: "Thou shalt not upset the woke mob."

When students are afraid to ask questions or share their ideas in a public forum, something is fundamentally wrong with the learning environment that colleges and universities are supposedly providing. On campus, if every answer to a question or response to a comment is someone's feigned attempt to fit the narrative of woke culture, then how exactly are students learning anything other than what the ideological majority wants them to learn?

This isn't learning, this is brainwashing─and it's more than just teaching biased lesson plans. It requires control over a person's environment, is reinforced by fear and is usually more effective when a person is taken out of his comfort zone and put into a new environment—for example, a college campus.

University campus in 2015
University campus in 2015 Nina Dermawan / Contributor / Getty Images

When you actually read the definition of brainwashing, it is unnerving how much it resembles what is happening on college campuses today. See for yourself: "Brainwashing," according to Encyclopedia Britannica,is defined as a "systematic effort to persuade nonbelievers to accept a certain allegiance, command or doctrine." That is exactly what is happening on campuses today.

During Speech First's recent case against Iowa State University, a student stated, "If I say one thing in front of the wrong person, I'll get reported to" campus climate reporting. Similarly, a student in the Speech First case against the University of Central Florida (UCF) stated that he does not fully express himself or talk about certain issues because he fears that other students will "catch him" and report him to the school's Just Knights Response Team.

Students fear that their campuses' bias response teams will keep records on them and possibly refer allegations to the school administration or police department. Furthermore, as in the case with former UCF professor Charles Negy, who expressed his own opinions and was subsequently fired, students fear that if a tenured professor can be fired for speech, then what could happen to them?

We often think of brainwashing as involving subliminal messaging or strapping a person down to a chair and holding his eyes open while playing propaganda videos. But if you're looking closely at campuses, you'll see that student self-censorship is driven by an environment of fear designed to brainwash rather than to educate. We often use the term "indoctrination," but indoctrination is just one of the tools in the broader brainwashing toolbox.

There is much more than merely biased teaching taking place on the American university campus. The campus environment has become a place where students are afraid to contradict university ideology or commit a "thought crime." They are actively modifying their behavior, how they speak and who they associate with in order to avoid punishment both on- and off-campus. If we don't reverse this fear-based "education" now, we will be sentencing the next generation to a lifetime of self-censorship that will no doubt reach beyond their college years.

Cherise Trump is the executive director of Speech First.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.