I am currently an undergraduate student in my last year at a Canadian university. Today, I gave a presentation about anti-censorship technology being developed at my institution. We were required to ask questions to the audience at the end of the presentation and one of mine was a multiple choice question that asked where the technology would not work, with answers that included “The People’s Republic of China” and “Republic of China” among others.
One of the students in the class who grew up in China asked a leading question about why I had two options, to which I responded: “there are two countries that call themselves China”. He became extremely aggressive at that point and stated that I shouldn’t be pushing my political beliefs on the class (the class was about technology and business), and yelled a standard Chinese political line about a united China in the middle of class. In the moment, I quickly just apologized that he was offended by it and somehow got the presentation back on track.
I spoke with the professor later in the day and he said the student came to him with a list of demands, which included, among other things, a public apology in class, alteration of my slide deck before posting it to the discussion board, and a meeting between him, the professor, and I.
I believe I am in the right when it comes to this topic and during my discussion with my professor, he agreed that students have a right to freedom of speech. He left it to me to decide what actions on the demands list, if any, I would be willing to do.
I feel some remorse, as I didn’t think that the question would be taken so violently by a member of the audience, but the level of intensity in my classmate is extreme. He stared at me consistently for the rest of class and, to be honest, made me somewhat uncomfortable.
I agreed to the meeting to start, but what else should I do? Disciplinary actions, like legal trials, tend to not always work out for the person who is in the right – there are many innocent people in jail. I want to stand up for freedom of speech, but don’t want to be crucified under a formal review because one of the reviewers may have also been indoctrinated by growing up in China and share the same views. I’m sure just like anything, if you dig hard enough, you can find something to get me on if the administration wanted to.
The irony that I see in this whole presentation is that it was about anti-censorship, and my classmate wants me to censor myself and only accept his version of truth – which is actually a lie.