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What does freedom mean to Cobbers?

With 2020 being a year of pandemic, protests, elections, excess use of power and debates, it seems necessary to look into what freedom means to members of the Concordia community.

As Americans, people are granted certain freedoms by the First Amendment: religion, press, assembly and petition. However, there seems to be a misunderstanding or debate about what the term freedom means, and people are operating under differing definitions of the word. So, how do some students and faculty members define freedom?

Diana Whitcomb, a senior theater art major, defined freedom as a choice. Whitcomb said it is “being able to choose how your life looks every new day of it,” and to have “ease and comfort.” She also adds that personal freedom should not come at a cost of anyone else.

“I think that in a truly free society one’s personal needs wouldn’t ever diminish anyone else’s under the guise of false appearance of freedom,” she said.

To be free is to have a sense of safety and choice, but that comfort can not come from harming or withholding that same comfort from another, she added.

Kayla Adamek, a sophomore heritage and museum studies and environmental studies major said, “freedom means that you can express yourself and your views without fear of retaliation,” and, simply put, freedom is the absence of fear. 

Lauryn Hinckley, a junior neuroscience major with minors in chemistry and food/nutrition/dietetics, defined freedom as the ability and right to use one’s voice and thoughts for education, morals, spiritual and/or religious background as they want without interfering with the freedoms or rights of others. She believes having true freedom is having rights such as the rights to “affordable and nutritious food, affordable housing, education, speech, religion, bearing arms, legitimate information by the press, transparency of government at all levels and safety.” Freedom grants a person their rights, but should not interfere with the rights of others. 

James Postema, a professor in the English department, said that freedom is often thought of as a negative thing — freedom from things. Usually in American rhetoric, freedom is thought of as a positive thing, as in “freedom for all,” but it should always come with responsibility. Nobody has unlimited freedom either physically or politically, so it is also freedom within reason. He also believes being free means that a person can believe in the god they want to believe in, help others be the best person they can be and the government cannot persecute a person for what they believe. He acknowledged that freedom also means to think responsibility and act responsibly in ways that will allow your conscience to be at peace. People have assumed that freedom means that people can do anything they want, and that is where confusion and turmoil can occur.

Indira Neill Hoch, an assistant professor in the communication studies and theater arts department, thinks of freedom as the ability to exist without fear. When the structures that create fear have been alleviated to allow people to act in their best interests as long as that does not produce fear in others. That ties freedom with equity.

“We are able to act in ways that feel true to ourselves without making others feel fearful,” said Hoch. To be free is to have the ability to express yourself in a way that makes you feel comfortable and authentic, and to be able to engage with civil society in a way where you are treated with dignity and respect. This way of understanding freedom is not just applicable to the United States and isn’t necessarily as culturally specific as other ways of defining freedom. 

Recent events, like the storming of the Capitol, have shown how others’ perceptions of freedom can make the people around them fearful.

“The freedom to say something does not mean the freedom from consequences when those things are said,” said Hoch. 

Every individual has their way of defining freedom and within their definitions, there are some common themes, like freedom from fear or to feel safe. However, freedom also comes with the fine print and stops when one person harms or infringes on another’s safety. 

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