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Only open, mature dialogue prevails

| Thursday, April 10, 2014

Notre Dame’s mission statement states that “[w]hat the University asks of all its scholars and students […] is not a particular creedal affiliation, but a respect for the objectives of Notre Dame and a willingness to enter into the conversation that gives it life and character. Therefore, the University insists upon academic freedom that makes open discussion and inquiry possible.” In my opinion, the key phrase here is “willingness to enter into the conversation.” After reading multiple viewpoints on both sides regarding Ann Coulter’s upcoming visit to Notre Dame, it seems clear we are forgetting this key aspect of the University’s aspirations. Regardless of political views, personal beliefs or any other factor affected by Coulter’s visit, it is the individuals’ responsibility to listen to views opposing their own if they desire to be productive participants in the conversation of social conservatism. Yes, we have a right to free speech, but is it really productive to insult opposite viewpoints with hurtful and biased responses? Personally, I believe not.
Notre Dame’s mission statement also states that “the University seeks to cultivate in its students not only an appreciation for the great achievements of human beings but also a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many.” By bringing Coulter to campus, the College Republicans are participating in the discussion on the incorporation of conservative values into politics. While Coulter’s disrespectful comments in the past may not represent conservative ideals in the most positive light, it is the responsibility of all who oppose her views to accept the club’s right to host her on campus.
The project, “I, Too, Am Notre Dame,” has recently caused controversy as well. These students also have a right to address the problem of racial prejudice on campus, a topic of equal importance that must be discussed too. Again, those who feel that these students’ presentations paint the University’s student body in a negative light are allowed to hold their own personal beliefs, but they, too, must accept these students’ right to do so.
In essence, both groups are attempting to accomplish the same thing: to gain perspective on major issues that affect millions of people every day. While they might cause offense, the issues both of these groups bring to light are serious topics students on our campus deal with every day. Preventing the open discussion of these topics only further inhibits productive dialogue.
Instead of trying to lambast opposing viewpoints on how to address the issues that both the “I, Too, Am Notre Dame” project and the College Republicans bring up, what we really need is to attempt to understand all sides of these discussions and why various groups hold certain views. By disregarding the legitimate concerns of groups whose views we do not fully understand, we prevent ourselves from developing an informed belief and playing a role in determining how to address many of these issues.  Addressing both the issues of racial prejudice and of the integration of Christian beliefs into politics are complex tasks for our campus to tackle, but we will get nowhere unless we can discuss these problems with respect for and open-mindedness toward those who hold different beliefs than our own. No one group of people will be able to come up with a solution to the massive issues we all experience on a regular basis. Only open, mature dialogue will be able to address the root of our concerns.
Here is my challenge for the students who are involved in the recent controversies on campus: Instead of demeaning the views of those with whom you disagree, take the time to understand why they hold their beliefs and why they choose to make their decisions. You may still disagree with them, but at least you will have a better understanding of the issue you are debating and a greater respect for your opponent.
Is that not the essence of our University’s ideals: to foster intellectual conversation on how to solve injustices in our society, all while growing to understand viewpoints that differ from our own? Therefore, it is our duty not only as students at Notre Dame (and, in many cases, as Christians), but as citizens of a country focused on creating equal opportunities for every citizen, to work with people of all backgrounds and beliefs to create a community that fosters the growth of all.
If we all continue to defensively attack viewpoints we do not understand, we will get nowhere in solving the injustices we all must face each day.

Ashley Murphy
Howard Hall

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Peter Castle

    Constructive dialogue requires a modicum of decorum. Coulter’s stated goal is not to engage but to enrage the enemy. We should Never Trust Ann Coulter – at ANY Age, see http://www.coulterwatch.com/never.pdf.

  • wait what

    Well this is a bizarre and insulting false equivalence. I don’t care if Coulter comes to campus. Whatever. She’s poisonous, and it reflects poorly on the conservatives at Notre Dame, but whatever. It certainly isn’t surprising (and it won’t surprise outsiders either, which is the only reason I might maybe care, because I don’t care for the assumptions people make about me when I tell them about where I went to school).

    But comparing bringing her to campus to…. students pointing out that a lot of students at Notre Dame are sheltered, ignorant, and racist? What?

  • Sure

    There is a reason why the woman is not married. And thank God, her eggs are dried.

    • M.

      While I am very much opposed to Ann Coulter, personal and gendered insults aren’t really the best way to gain the upper hand.

    • James

      I’d liked her better when she was still a man

  • Sophia

    Good attempt to calm the waters. But really, Coulter is a hate-filled person. People have the right to protest her visit and demand that the Republican club listen to reason and faith by rescinding their invitation to this woman, Ms. Coulter. Students have the right to protest the racism that does exist at ND. Others have the right to disagree with this opinion (how strange a thought, white kids telling colored kids that ND really isn’t that racist….nothing wrong with that picture). But calling out racism, disagreeing over what constitutes racism, is one kind of exercise of free speech. Ann Coulter’s hate-filled speech is far from this dialogue. She has the right to speak her mind, but she does not have the right to trample upon people’s dignity. She is not committed to dialogue. Neither are the College Republicans.

  • Jenna

    I appreciate this Viewpoint. However, while I agree that it is important to bring speakers endorsing a variety of perspectives to campus, Ms. Coulter has repeatedly endorsed hateful and racist ones. The problem is that she is being honored as a special guest speaker and probably being paid a hefty honorarium. The Club could have easily invited another speaker with equally strong conservative views, but with a lesser polemical history inconsistent with the University’s standards for respectful dialogue.

  • Needing Clarification

    Uh. I appreciate the attempt made in this article. But…..the “I, Too, Am Notre Dame” project and Ann Coulter’s visit are not analogous. It is concerning that you believe that they are.

  • Kevin Fernandez

    Um, the club doesn’t have the “right” to bring anyone to campus. It’s concerning that you think any club has a right to bring in guest speakers. Club status is a privilege, and Notre Dame should be interested in protecting its image as a university dedicated to inculcating values antithetical to hateful and ignorant speech a la Coulter’s.

    • sheesh

      Google Hitler.

      • Kevin Fernandez

        Not sure of the point, or lack thereof, you’re trying to make. Besides invoking Godwin’s Law, of course.