I had high hopes for the forum held by the Campus Y yesterday. I had spoken to Jimmy Waters and Erin Marubashi (the Co-Presidents of Campus Y), and I thought that the format they were going to use would be conducive to understanding what exactly led to the egregious protests that occurred and how we could prevent that from happening in the future.
Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, the good intentions of Jimmy and Erin got us nowhere. There wasn’t any substantive dialogue (outside of College Republicans, Carolina Review, College Libertarians, YWC, and, to an extent, SDS). It was merely a compilation of wishy-washy “We like free speech, but…” and they never really said what the “but” entailed.
Virginia Carson, director of the Campus Y, actually did an effective job at trying to get to the essence of what each group was saying. In one exchange, she finally got to the heart of the matter at hand. A representative from SAW was explaining how they protested and what they would do in the future, but it sounded as if he was indirectly saying that the speaker (Congressman Tancredo) should not have been invited in the first place, so Mrs Carson asked him exactly that: “Do you think that Congressman Tancredo should not have been invited to speak?” There was a pregnant pause, followed by, “Uh… that’s not exactly what I was saying.”
The representative from the College Libertarians was very effective. At one point he basically said it doesn’t matter what the speaker was saying, it is his right to speak freely. Zach Dexter, representing the Carolina Review, also raised the valid point that it was this idea of hate speech that radicalized people to act the way they did. To the question of how we might engage in a dialogue with political opponents, I said, “We need to regain the idea of respect. Someone may say something that I disagree with, but I still owe him the respect to quietly listen and then to engage him in debate with questions. The actions, especially last night [referring to the Goode speech], reflect an immaturity on the part of the protesters, yelling expletives or nonsensical phrases merely to interrupt the speaker. We need to re-introduce the concept of respect in discourse and just act mature.”
This brought forth a question from a member of the audience who asked how I could say that the protesters were acting immature and how would could instantaneously bring about maturity in people. I was shocked. Watching the video courtesy of CRDaily.com, one can clearly call these people immature at the very least. Unfortunately, this opinion is shared by many in our university. And it won’t change overnight. It may not change at all. Students should have been taught these basic lessons in kindergarten (a point I raised in our closing statements): “You shouldn’t talk when someone else is talking, and, if you have something to say, raise your hand. We need to return to these basic life lessons, and it won’t be overnight, but if we want to have substantive dialogue about anything, we need to be mature and respect political opponents.”
Representatives from YWC were initially not present, although when Riley Matheson (President of YWC) and his colleague appeared, the tone of the whole conversation changed. The representative from SDS became much more aggressive and animated, clearly making it known that YWC, in its support of Western ideals was racist. At one point, he asked Riley, “What is Western Civilization?” expecting an answer right then and there, hopefully in under a minute. He continued, “Riley is good at dodging questions, and he will dodge this one because what he actually means by Western Civilization is a racist history.” At that point, I had to jump in and ask, “Look, we’re talking about over four thousand years of history. You can’t expect anyone to answer the question, ‘What is Western Civilization’ in under a minute, that’s absurd.” But, as I said, SDS make its position clear: they think that YWC is racist, no matter what. Every other group there (SAW, LINK, CHispA, etc…) probably thought the same thing, but danced around the issue. After all these attacks, Riley raised an interesting point: when a liberal group or professor uses the term “Western Civilization,” there is not this sudden mob of people demanding (with a glint in their eye), “Define Western Civilization!” But when a conservative group or (one of few) conservative professors talks about Western Civilization, it is instantly assumed that he must racist.
The others would lament YWC’s stance against multiculturalism (which they defined as the presence of other cultures, not what it actually means, the moral equivalency of all cultures; cultural relativism), but never define their stance on free speech or YWC. It would have been comical had it not been on such a serious topic, free speech on campus. Their circular reasoning and wishy-washy refrains created an atmosphere that was almost surreal. A good summation of yesterday’s (useless) forum on campus dialogue.