Op-ed | Enough name calling; it’s time to talk

Op-Ed image
Photo courtesy of the Office of Assemblymember Sam Berger

With uncivil discourse on the rise, it’s time to bring back decorum.

The social media tidal wave that washed over the 21st century has left many floundering. With access to multiple vantage points of all of history, photos and recordings of every current event, and more information than any person could consume in a thousand lifetimes, the truth should be clear, and yet people seem more confused than ever. 

Colleges, ideally, should be a bastion of the pursuit of truth. These are institutions, where each generation prior to entering the workforce, should be able to soak in an array of differing ideas to find the truth contained within each viewpoint and decide what kind of adult they’re going to be. As Americans, we celebrate freedom of speech which is founded on the concept that views will rise or fall in the marketplace of ideas. This is why we allow rallies and speakers that are pro-capitalism, pro-socialism, pro-Israel, pro-Hamas, pro-life or pro-choice. Our citizens have the freedom to pursue knowledge of all viewpoints and our citizens have the power to vote with that knowledge in mind.

Today, it seems college culture has stumbled. Even in our own backyard, we have seen horrific instances of hate passed off as dialogue at our local colleges. Ideas deemed offensive can be shut down and boxed out with screams and shouts from protestors who only want their own ideas to have room to be heard. Thus, discussions on controversial topics become one-sided with the other side closing their mouths for fear of social ostracization from students or grade reduction from faculty. Insulting people you don’t agree with has become acceptable behavior and institutions of higher learning are seeing a slow descent into chaos. This cannot go on. We must be better.

I am putting forth legislation in New York – The Dialogue & Decorum Act (A8334) – to try and bring some decency, stability, and order back to college campuses. Everyone has the right to speak, yet using your voice to cancel out the voice of another is an abuse of that right. If speakers are brought in and people come to hear their points, you should not have the right to yell and chant as the speaker talks. 

This isn’t about silencing opposition, but making sure everyone can be heard. Voice your opposition in a Q &A during the event or at a protest outside or at a counter event to compete in the marketplace of ideas. You don’t like their opinion, that is your right, but denying them the freedom to speak their views uninterrupted at institutions of higher education is how we get stuck in echo chambers and lose the ability to think critically. 

Sam Berger is a New York State Assemblymember representing Kew Gardens Hills, College Point, Electchester, Whitestone, Pomonok, Forest Hills, & Briarwood. At 25, Berger is the youngest member in the Assembly and a law school graduate. Berger is married with two children and proudly serves the district he grew up in.