College traditionally exists as a period of time filled with enriched opportunities to foster one’s interests and cultivate intellectual growth. As Occidental students, while we collectively relish in our rather liberal interests, we typically have an unspoken set of political and social norms deemed morally acceptable to voice freely. We’re progressively aware, socially active and politically engaged. But it is crucial to question whether we unconsciously allow a hegemonic, leftist moral judgment to pervade all aspects of campus life.
On Occidental’s campus and many around the U.S., we assumably engage with each other as progressive individuals. We’re quick to judge and sometimes even refuse to engage with others who don’t share our opinions. Our “open-minded” beliefs ironically exclude select opinions we do not deem morally acceptable.
We live in a time of unprecedented political sensitivity on college campuses, specifically regarding outside campus speakers. Across the country, we see fervent reactions when colleges invite speakers deemed too conservative. Students are quick to protest, and safe spaces are often made for students who feel personally uncomfortable or offended by the potential speaker. But these defensive reactions hinder our own intellectual growth as students. Student protesters should not be suppressed in their rights to voice what remains crucial to their identities, and safe spaces prevail as a mechanism to discount bigotry or hateful speech but as students, we should reevaluate our evident sensitivity to unprogressive opinions.
Occidental College and The Jack Kemp ’57 Distinguished Lecture Series anticipate the upcoming visit of Dr. Condoleezza Rice, 66th Secretary of State, on Monday April 18. This series aims to bring Occidental students and faculty into dialogue surrounding topical public policy issues such as the political economy, economic growth in the context of a free market system, communitarian values and bipartisan relations.
It is crucial to analyze whether this type of inclusive dialogue exists daily on our campus, or whether voicing different opinions becomes momentarily acceptable through institutional opportunities. Condoleezza Rice falls into the conservative, controversial realm of campus speakers. She remains openly criticized for her involvement in the Iraq War, often referred to as a war criminal in the sphere of international law for her role in launching an “illegal,” destructive war that openly practiced torture. In 2014, when Rice was asked to deliver the commencement address at Rutgers University, she declined the invitation after students and faculty protested, staging sit-ins regarding her responsibility for the Iraq War as a member of the Bush administration.
However, Rice also symbolizes representational progress in modern American politics. She is respected as a diplomat and an accomplished scholar. Under the Bush administration, Rice was the second woman to hold the position of Secretary of State as well as the first African-American woman in this position. Rice was also the first woman to serve as national security advisor to the President.
Rather than let our political bias overpower our rationality, we should welcome Rice. We should question whether completely shielding ourselves from conservative speakers reaffirms our political identities, or actually prevents an opportunity to develop our own intellectual freedom. As students and active participants of our ever-changing world, we should not be politically coddled or protected from different points of view that venture beyond our comfortable realm of moral acceptance.
As seen in the Rutgers students’ reaction to Rice, a culture of moral judgment rooted in leftist political bias exists beyond Occidental’s campus as well as within it. When we attempt to prevent a conservative speaker from being heard, we’re allowing our valid but sometimes stubborn beliefs to essentially decide which student voices matter and deserve to be heard on college campuses.
When we refuse to engage in unpopular discussions, our own intellectual freedom becomes limited. Ironically, our supposed progressive leanings translate into narrow-mindedness or irrationality. Listening to others we don’t agree with puts our own beliefs into a reassuring, broadened or altered perspective. When we engage in unbiased, inclusive dialogue, we’re not solely accommodating an array of different opinions, but enhancing our mutual understanding of the world. There is an intricate, politically diverse world beyond our campus, and we must embrace all of its complexities.
Fiona Eustace is a sophomore politics major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.