Amherst College prides itself on diversity. We actively recruit students from across the planet — students endowed with unique modes of thinking and diverse opinions. Too often, however, our left-leaning majority seems to encourage an excessively narrow dialogue.
Of course, we are a liberal arts institution, and it is therefore understandable that our discourse exhibits a liberal bias. Prospective students who choose to apply here know this. Nevertheless, if we truly pride ourselves on diversity, we must promote it not only in our racial and cultural image but also in our intellectual rhetoric. Not long ago I supported what turned out to be the unpopular position in an online debate amongst a group of students. After spending time and exerting effort developing what I believed to be a persuasive case, I received two comments from my peers. Rather than providing thoughtful arguments to counter my own, these students dismissed me as unworthy of a response because I had taken what they viewed to be a culturally insensitive stance on this issue at hand.
One responded only with a repetition of the word “no”, while the other expressed his shock that anyone could support such an “idiotic” position with no actual discussion of my professed idiocy. This complete lack of constructive, scholarly validation was unfamiliar to me because I am usually amongst the majority in such discussions with my peers at the College. However, some students on our campus are all too familiar with aggressive dismissals of their thoughts and ideas.
This past spring, for example, one of my peers had the courage to write an article explaining what is on our campus the unpopular stance on the issue of abortion. Like most other students who read the article, I disagreed with nearly every point he made. Nonetheless, I was shocked by the relative absence of constructive criticism in the online responses to his article. While a few students did deliver intelligent, useful critiques, an unmistakable majority degenerated to labeling him a misogynist, a racist and an elitist without providing any actual connections to what he had written. In fact, it would not be far-fetched to suggest that some commentators had not read past the title of the article. These students deemed his view so completely reprehensible that he was not worthy of the few minutes it would have taken them to actually express and justify their own opinions in response to him. Although I felt some sympathy for my friend at the time, I don’t think I truly understood how this complete lack of intellectual validation must have made him feel prior to my own similar (although far less intense) experience. Well, it hurts. It hurts to be told that the beliefs you hold dear and the ideas you struggle to justify are too idiotic to warrant an honest rebuttal. This pain, I’m sure, has discouraged many students of the College from voicing their beliefs when doing so entails taking a position that is known to be unpopular on our campus. The resulting lack of intellectual variety has made our institution’s rhetoric programmed and one-dimensional. It has stifled our diversity.
I do not mean to whine about these experiences, and I hold no grudges against any of my peers. I am merely concerned for our students and for the future of our institution should we continue to interact in this way.
Upon leaving the College, we will continue to encounter diverse thinkers with unique views, ideas and beliefs; these are the people with whom we will have to somehow build our futures. In the real world, however, we will not be able to smother to death every opinion that does not fit neatly into the narrow mold of political correctness and cultural sensitivity that happens to dominate the bubble of our college campus.
So here is my suggestion: when one of your peers advocates for a position with which you disagree, by all means proactively and forcefully explain why it is that you feel differently. But first, listen to him/her objectively and allow your own opinion to be swayed slightly if he/she makes a point that you feel is valid. Then, take the time to explain your own views in the respectful, intelligent manner that validates him/her as an able thinker and a respectable human being.
Let us promote a more inclusive rhetoric on our campus and let us learn how to live with intellectual diversity now, while we are still allowed to make mistakes.