Two interesting things happened last week.

San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback, Colin Kaepernick decided to stay on the bench during the playing of the National Anthem at an exhibition game.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way ...”

The team responded in part, “… In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

I am a firm believer in the freedoms of speech and expression. Kaepernick absolutely has the right to “sit out the anthem.” But, our national anthem is a symbol for the very freedom that he is utilizing to express his point of view. I think he would want to stand tall and proud, honoring this country which allows him to utilize those freedoms to express those views.

And then there was a letter written by John Ellison, Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, to all incoming freshman.

“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” the letter states.

The University’s Committee on Freedom of Expression stated, “It is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they might find unwelcomed, disagreeable, or deeply offensive.”

I have been aware of the growing discussions regarding the trend on many campuses to buffer students from varying points of view on controversial and even not so controversial topics. This past graduation season saw the cancelling of several prominent individuals from their keynote speaker duties at several universities due to some students objecting to the speaker’s viewpoints.

Many feel that this trend, not only in schools but in homes as well, is “coddling our young” not exposing them to the realities of the world.

Of all places, shouldn’t a university be the place which allows its students to experience the vast diversity of ideas and philosophies which exist in the 21st century? Isn’t it the role of “higher education” to expose students to ideas with which they might not be familiar and to push them to seek, to expand their horizons, to express their own opinions based on all of those educational journeys in the pursuit of knowledge?

Yes, it was an interesting week for discussions of our freedoms. And, isn’t it great that we live in a country where we can openly and freely discuss any topic we choose?

Wendy J. Levenfeld is a published novelist, playwright and columnist. Comments can be addressed to wendylevenfeld@gmail.com.

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