The Millennials Issue: Myths and Truths About Our Generation
originally published in The Boston Globe Magazine
May 28, 2017
TRUTH #4: WE FEEL CONFLICTED ABOUT FREE SPEECH
Many of us millennials think speech shouldn’t flow so freely. A Pew study finds we are significantly more likely than Gen Xers and boomers to support limits on speech that has the potential to offend minority groups. We are by far the most diverse generation of Americans, so we appear more attuned to the intersections of cultural, social, political, and economic forces than our elders. That consciousness has proved a blessing and curse. Just this year, we’ve seen protests interrupt or even prevent campus talks by big-name right-wing pundits such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter at Berkeley and economist Charles Murray at Middlebury. Meanwhile, schools debate using “trigger warnings” to flag books and other materials that may make students feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Our concerns have some saying we millennials are precious “snowflakes” who can’t withstand any whiff of dissent. (One headline from The Onion joked: “Berkeley Campus on Lockdown After Loose Pages From ‘Wall Street Journal’ Found on Park Bench.”) Maybe we need to engage opponents instead of decrying them. But if civil discourse among divergent communities is the goal, should the conversation start with provocateurs like Yiannopoulos?