Many students feel intimidated to share their opinions in class as professors seek “safe space censorship” over thoughtful discourse and debate. For far too many students, this fear of being censored or getting a bad grade simply for sharing an opinion doesn’t come until it is too late.

Spencer Shuppy, a University of Utah student, reached out to Hypeline about an experience he had last fall with one of his professors that actually led him to take a stand against safe spaces and censorship by joining his school’s Turning Point USA chapter.

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University of Utah

In an interview with Hypeline, Shuppy described the incident that occurred in the very first week of class. While going over the syllabus,

Shuppy’s professor explained that his class was a “safe space”. Shuppy said, “I didn’t know what that meant until I actually shared my opinion”.

In his advanced writing course, Shuppy was given an online assignment on Canvas where students were asked to practice making a claim with supporting evidence while other classmates were allowed to comment on the submission with their counter-arguments.

Shuppy said recent events in Ferguson and Baltimore inspired him to write about the organization Black Lives Matter and identify the way in which the organization directly and indirectly participated in domestic terrorist activities.

Shuppy said he used a broad definition of terrorism as “violence committed for political reasons” and backed up his claim with examples of alleged members of the movement committing violence and disrupting businesses.

Several students were offended by Shuppy’s post and responded by calling him a “racist” and an “idiot”, while others reportedly complained to the professor about Shuppy’s opinions on BLM.

For Shuppy, the backlash continued the next day when Dr. Bradford Windley, his professor, took time out of the regular lecture to pull up Shuppy’s post in front of the entire class in order to shame and censor his opinions.

“I was humiliated. He told everyone that we shouldn’t be making these types of arguments in his class because they are offensive and discriminatory” reported Shuppy.

Later his professor made matters worse by writing Shuppy a personal email that stated, “If I was you, I would not share opinions that are sure to offend people”.

Shuppy said this incident not only caused him to feel like his opinions were not welcome, but also that he felt other students saw this a warning to not express ideas that didn’t fit a certain narrative. Shuppy also mentioned that he got grades back on his essays that were not reflective of his writing ability and did not reflect the types of grades he was receiving in all his other classes.

The problem with writing classes like the one Shuppy was in is that the professor grades papers subjectively and students have a much harder time disputing their grades. Students who fear for their grades are pressured into adopting the default ideology of their professors and seeking the easiest path to passing the course.

While college is certainly a space where ideas are not free from criticism, this incident of singling out a student for holding a controversial opinion certainly fits a growing body of evidence that demonstrates widespread censorship happening on campuses all over the country.

For Shuppy, there is a silver lining to this story. As he was walking out of his classroom building, Shuppy ran into several students gathered around a “Free Speech Ball” that caught his attention.

Students gather around a "Free Speech Ball" provided by members of the University of Utah's Turning Point USA chapter.
Students gather around a “Free Speech Ball” provided by members of the University of Utah’s Turning Point USA chapter.

The students were Turning Point USA members and Shuppy decided to get involved.

Turning Point USA is a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to fighting for free speech on campus and educates students on the principles of limited government and free markets.

Hypeline reached out to the University of Utah and Dr. Bradford Windley for comment and has not yet received a response.

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Gunnar is a full-time field director for Turning Point USA and a student at the University of Utah studying Finance and Political Science. Gunnar has a strong interest in corporate law and pubic service and plans on attending law school next fall. Eventually, Gunnar plans on running for public office in the state of Utah.

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