Free to Speak?
Polarization continues to increase across the nation and in order to heal this growing wound, there must be mutual respect. Minimizing polarization requires that we listen to opinions and ideas that differ from our own and that we do not dehumanize those who express them. Unfortunately, many high schools and universities are suppressing opinions on both sides of the spectrum that are deemed unpopular. The cancellation of invited speakers Nikole Hannah-Jones by the Middlesex School and Dorian Abbot by MIT are recent examples.
Nikole Hannah-Jones is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose epic 1619 project provided a framework for how educational institutions can teach a more accurate, age-appropriate history of slavery. Part of her thesis, that the Revolutionary War was caused by slavery, has been disputed by respected historians with expertise in this era. Ms. Hannah-Jones’s invitation to speak at the Middlesex School was revoked because of concern that “outside agitators” would be disruptive. Ms. Hannah-Jones had an important message to convey, and it was a major missed learning opportunity for the students and faculty at Middlesex that she was not provided a forum to present her thesis and open it up to debate.
Dorian Abbot is a respected geophysicist at the University of Chicago who was selected to give an honorary scientific lecture at MIT. MIT cancelled his invitation when pressure was applied on the administration because of a piece he co-authored in Newsweek. Abbot opined that affirmative action should not play a role in faculty hiring and that having multiple diversity officers for one particular department is not a good use of money and resources. Instead, he believes these funds should be used to improve underfunded schools in poor communities so that the children in these communities can compete with their more privileged peers. Should this scientist be made a pariah for expressing his views that should be open for debate? Princeton provided a forum for Professor Abbot to give his scientific lecture.
All educational institutions must allow students and faculty to offer their views in a respectful environment. However, anyone stating an opinion should be prepared to provide evidence and be ready to answer pointed questions. There are some topics that do not deserve a forum for discussion such as whether slavery or the Holocaust really happened, as there is overwhelming historical evidence to prove their existence. Everyone benefits when our views are challenged; however, disrespectful or racist commentary should never be tolerated on school campuses.
Although I am socially progressive and fiscally conservative, I find that my arguments are sharpened after I reflect on my discussions with peers and faculty with a point of view that differs from mine. Being willing to listen and question opinions and ideas different from our own strengthens our communities. This fact proves why a diverse student body and faculty is necessary to obtain a truly exceptional education. It is the responsibility of the administration to make certain that all faculty and students feel comfortable expressing their opinions without threat or intimidation. Belmont Hill excels in how it encourages and provides an environment where everyone can express their views—liberal, conservative, and everything in between—without fear of reprisal.