Whenever matters of free-speech are up for debate, I am reminded of Ms. Keshia Thomas, who in June of 1996 was photographed in Ann Arbor, Michigan protecting a suspected white supremicist from a mob. Ms. Thomas is a black woman. She claimed she stepped in because the situation had become “barbaric”. It is with this predisposition that I approach the controversy of speakers on America’s college campuses. The debate has raged in the American zeitgeist for over a decade. And as the aperture of ‘acceptable’ American discourse grows ever smaller, it too often comes at the cost of our humanity. Therefore, if colleges are to prepare our youth for the real world, they must also have a plethora of ideas present, emphasize inclusion despite differences, and must underscore the humanity inherent in all humans; thereby allowing students to have a holistic preparation for the real world.
If college is to prepare students, it must present a variety of voices. It is no secret that today’s higher education system trends towards a liberal interpretation of our world, emphasizing ideas of inclusion and diversity when it comes to existing constructs such as gender, sexual orientation, and race. Yet seemingly not a diversity of thought. UC Berkeley and American University, among others, have all had issues with student opposition to conservative speakers in the past. At American University, many students directly boycotted a talk with former Ohio Governor John Kasich, instead of taking the opportunity to engage him and attempt to discuss their differences. It is this very all or nothing attitude that creates a culture that is entirely antithetical to the point of higher education. Instead of challenging ideas and sharpening your own, students chose to not hear them at all. However, is it not better to engage those you disagree to find a common understanding than to simply distance yourself from them?
I ask that question because the shunning of the opposing viewpoint only pushes the incorrect notion that there is no middle ground to be found. This draconian interpretation of society creates binary in which you are either right or wrong; yet when neither side can agree on what right or wrong is, each becomes more entrenched in their views and increasingly immobile in the march toward consensus. This group of ostracised citizens, showed their strength most notably in the 2016 American presidential election. President Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was seen, among other things, as a revolt against political correctness and the culture of always having to say the right thing. This notion, that there is no room for error or disagreement is hilariously contradictory to what the ‘left’ supposedly stands for: inclusion and acceptance. As this group of Americans wrestles with their own values trying to find their place in this ever changing world, members of the ‘left’ stand on the sidelines throwing spears instead of helping hands.
That very humanity is truthfully what this is about. It is a challenge. Do we have the humanity to put aside our most primal instincts of fight or flight and just listen? Personally, I find it funny that during the 2008 presidential campaign between then Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain, much of the country including the ‘left’ commended McCain’s defense of Obama when one of his supporters called him a foreigner and an Arab. Yet today, in a world that needs it more than ever, even members on the ‘left’ are not willing to defend the humanity of those they disagree with. It is perfectly normal to not agree with everyone on everything. Yet these lessons will never be imparted on our youth, are we to not expose them to the truths of the world from a young age. The echochamber-isation of America, has made us forget that our humanity must always be our gravity.
For me, it’s a matter of principle. It was that very same principle Ms. Thomas believed in. This world is not a sensible place, it never has been and never will be. Despite that, we as Americans have the ability to make our corner of it understanding. We must realise that we don’t have to agree with everyone we meet, rather must just learn to understand where they are coming from. For if you can understand another person’s intentions, you can understand their heart, and if you can understand their heart, you have uncovered their humanity. This must start in college. When we show young people the world’s ugliness and its beauty, we mustn’t forget to show them it’s humanity. It’s time we join in a chorus of acceptance, because the greatest harmony is only made when we can hear the notes sang by those around us.