This idea — that there is often no difference between speech and violence — has stuck many as a coddling or infantilizing of students, as well as a corrosive influence on the freedom of expression necessary for intellectual progress. It’s a safe bet that the Pew survey data released on Monday, which showed that Republicans’ views of colleges and universities have taken a sharp negative turn since 2015, results in part from exasperation with the “speech equals violence” equation.
The scientific findings I described above provide empirical guidance for which kinds of controversial speech should and shouldn’t be acceptable on campus and in civil society. In short, the answer depends on whether the speech is abusive or merely offensive.
Offensiveness is not bad for your body and brain. Your nervous system evolved to withstand periodic bouts of stress, such as fleeing from a tiger, taking a punch or encountering an odious idea in a university lecture.
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