Question Mark

In the age of instantaneous communication where ideas spread virally and even my Facebook timeline is not safe from “disturbing” opinions, aren’t there already multiple avenues to listen to different viewpoints? Then what is the point of providing our scarce convocation slots to people with disturbing or ethically reprehensible ideas? Don’t the potential costs (monetary, moral or those to Lawrence’s image) outweigh the alleged benefits of calling such speakers to campus?

Thank you for the question. My goal for the convocation was to elicit questions exactly like this one.

I assume you are referring to the quote in my speech from Bates President Elaine Tuttle Hansen. She said, “Listening is a powerful and difficult skill, and above all learning how to listen to what is unfamiliar or disturbing to received opinion and commonly understood ways of thinking should be essential to many kinds of higher education.”

Maybe a few examples would help underline this point. I would guess the majority of the campus community believes, like I do, that global temperature is increasing due to human activity which puts humanity at risk. But could we all learn hearing from a scientist who held a contradictory view? Someone who had a view that was disturbing to commonly understood ways of thinking?

As another example from our own institution, in April of 2013, Greenfire invited Lierre Keith, an environmentalist and feminist to speak on environmental issues during Lawrence’s Earth Week celebration. The group later rescinded the invitation because Ms. Keith holds views regarding gender that are offensive to some members and allies of the trans community. From what I know of her position on the matter, I disagree with Ms. Keith’s views on gender, but does that mean she should be banned from our campus?

I hope we will find a way to listen to and discuss a diversity of views on the important issues that face the world even if they are ones which don’t conform to our own points of view.