POLITICS

Obama To College Students: Keep Protesting, But 'Don't Shut People Up'

He wants students to accept and respect all points of view.

President Barack Obama expressed concern Monday that protesting college students have silenced different points of view, though he says he doesn't want to discourage them from speaking out and asking questions.

Obama said that it's a "healthy thing for young people to be engaged and to question authority," in an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, and added that it's important to "ask tough questions about social justice."

He worries, though, that protesters sometimes quash healthy discussions involving several viewpoints.

"As I've said before," Obama continued, "I do think that there have been times on college campuses where I get concerned that the unwillingness to hear other points of view can be as unhealthy on the left as on the right."

The president's comments come as race-related issues at several universities across the country have sparked a series of protests in recent months. Demonstrations at the University of Missouri in the fall led to the resignation of the school's president. And at Yale University, a professor stepped down after she was criticized for sending students an email encouraging them to either look the other way or engage in a discussion if they spotted offensive Halloween costumes.

Obama also referred specifically to instances when students protested speeches made by International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "because they don't like what they stand for."

"Well, feel free to disagree with somebody," he said, "but don't try to just shut them up."

"My concern is not whether there is campus activism," Obama added. "I think that's a good thing. But let kids ask questions and let universities respond. What I don't want is a situation in which particular points of view that are presented respectfully and reasonably are shut down, and we have seen that sometimes happen."

This is not the first time Obama has made the distinction between activism and respecting the views of others. In September, during a town hall speech, Obama said that it's problematic when students are "coddled and protected from different points of view.” 

And last month, he encouraged students to be “courageous” in confronting people with divergent views in an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

He added during that interview that he's discussed the recent campus protests with his daughters Malia and Sasha. He wants them to feel at liberty to speak out, "But I tell 'em: 'I want you also to be able to listen," he said. "I don't want you to think that a display of your strength is simply shutting other people up." 

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