In his Convocation last Thursday, President Burstein outlined his vision for a more thoughtful community through invigorated and inclusive dialogues. In order to fully and actively respond to the convocation, we must address certain flaws in—or possible misconceptions of—President Burstein’s argument. As we might expect of speakers with such bold ideas, the root of many of these issues lies in his thorough use of hyperbolic rhetoric.
President Burstein prodded his audience to open up their dialogues “the widest possible range of views.” This sort of speaking does not clarify the exact types of fringe perspectives we might include. If an individual holds an opinion that is “unfamiliar, or even disturbing,” yet defends it with reason, empirical evidence and the like, then we ought to include that unique participant without hesitation. If that same individual’s opinions arise from blatantly irrational or ignorant thinking, then we, as an intellectual institution, must have a duty to think twice before putting that opinion on a stage.
For instance, this particular convocation provides an example of speaking that is both provocative and thoughtful. No matter the faults that we may find or the intellectual disturbance his words may cause, President Burstein’s rhetoric stems from rationality and his intentions are responsible.
In other words, this convocation was the sort of provocation that prompted a great deal of positive conversation. As we work towards more inclusive dialogues, the unfamiliar or disturbing opinions that we include must be of a similar nature. We can think of few reasons to allow any such voice that speaks from a dangerous or ignorant mindset and prevents critical and rational listening on the part of the audience.
When we choose to include perspectives that are unfamiliar and intellectually questionable, we run the risk of suggesting some sort of tacit endorsement. If we put President Burstein’s words into action and invite “the widest possible range of views,” our institution must be clear that it does not necessarily endorse that entire range of views. Of course, the sort of students that President Burstein envisions taking part in such challenging dialogues—the sort of students we believe already attend Lawrence—are highly capable of sorting out their relation to, and the function of, provocative speakers.
As The Lawrentian Editorial Board discussed President Burstein’s convocation—whether during our meetings or passing each other on the sidewalk—each editor presented a distinct and deep impression, creating a dialogue with a rather wide range of views.This editorial is an attempt at synthesizing those perspectives; we hope our civil and inclusive discourse at least approximates President Burstein’s invigorating and hyperbolic ideals.