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A call for true diversity

| Thursday, December 10, 2015

It is an event of extreme rarity that our organization offers a viewpoint as a collective. BridgeND is a transpartisan student group dedicated towards open forum debate and inclusiveness, and as such, it is almost always inappropriate and impossible for us to offer opinions in chorus. However, in order for our club to function as it does, and in order to promote diversity at Notre Dame, we require adherence to a singular standard: the absolute and unfettered right of our members to choose and voice the content of their own opinions. It was disheartening to learn that this standard of diversity, inclusiveness and respect has come under attack on campus.

Recently, a fellow member of the Notre Dame community, Lauren Hill, was removed from a student organization in which she served as secretary. The grounds for her dismissal? A viewpoint article she published in The Observer in which she gave her views on an event that was distinct from the activities of her student group. Members of the student organization condemned the opinions expressed in Hill’s article as running contrary to the values of the group, and so she was removed by a two-thirds majority vote of membership.

While we in no way question the student group’s unqualified authority to determine the rules for its membership, we question the wisdom of its practice and decry the example it sets for a university campus dedicated to intellectual inquiry.

First, note we write neither to discuss the merits of Hill’s arguments nor the counter-arguments levied in turn. The dialogues presented on both sides of the issue constitute a debate of immense importance, one which students of all backgrounds have an obligation as citizens to engage with. We encourage readers to search for the relevant viewpoint articles and form their own opinions regarding their respective validity. Such an undertaking is not, however, the subject of this article.

Nor ought the contents of this viewpoint be diluted to a judgment as to the appropriateness, neatness or eloquence of Hill’s editorial. These issues are inconsequential for us; the worthiness of individual opinions for discussion in the public forum cannot be constrained by some threshold of intellectual or moral soundness. To impose such a standard is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt at regulation of unfavorable content.

Rather, we write to condemn in the strongest terms the notion that the proper means by which to combat speech with which one disagrees is to silence it. Such actions leave no room for growth by either party but instead result in the cultivation of suspicion, anger and even hatred. No standard of diversity can ever be promoted in this fashion. No lives, whether they belong to the majority or minority, can ever be protected in such a toxic environment.

One of the fundamental goals at the University of Notre Dame ought to be equipping our students to argue intelligently against opinions with which they disagree. With the culture currently being propagated, we instead have begun to ask ourselves, “Which views are unspeakable to begin with?” This is a dangerous and unacceptable precedent for a university dedicated to higher education.

Proponents of this culture dress their arguments in terms of “privilege,” “microaggressions,” and “trigger warnings.” Again, we do not write for the purpose of exploring the controversies surrounding these terms. Rather, we deny their unassailable veracity. In the words of Prof. John H. McWhorter, “this paradigm has no place in a university environment: It assumes a truth at the outset and allows no room for genuine exploration.” Issues of diversity are enormously complex and are worthy of discussion and debate. To say that those who fail to conform to this particular type of “PC” phraseology are simply bigoted is insincere and disenfranchises entire points of view from legitimate discourse. To coerce people with unpopular or minority opinions into silence is Orwellian and smothers diversity on campus.

BridgeND provides an unlimited forum to our members to discuss whatever views they hold and opens them to being challenged on those views. We pledge to never dismiss a member due to the content of his or her speech or opinions. We reject vehemently the notion that this puts minority students in any sort of danger whatsoever.

Our club is indeed safe. We are dedicated to civil discourse, and our officers retain the ability to regulate the time, manner and order of member speech. We will never tolerate abuse of any member towards another. Such things ought to go without saying on an American university campus. We are not, however, a “safe space.”

Students will find no refuge in our meetings from speech they might find offensive. Perhaps they may even perceive microaggressions of one form or another in the opinions of other members. We do not subject them to such realities to be cruel, callous or conformist, nor do we attempt to promote some pervasive majority oppression. Rather than erect such walls, our goal is to tear them down by revealing the innumerable similarities that students of all political persuasions have with one another. We exist under the sincerest belief that hatred and prejudice are realities perpetuated by ignorance of and in isolation from one’s neighbor. The only remedy we are aware of to such division is complete exposure to the opinions of others. Providing this medium is, in large part, the mission of our organization.

We hope that one day all students on our campus will be able to express the full nature of their views unafraid and without hesitation, but until then, we extend a warm and sincere invitation to Miss Hill, and others who have similarly felt discouraged to share their convictions, to bridgeND. We can promise you will be challenged but also that you will be welcomed. After all, it is a discourse that challenges the status quo which has always made our campus, and for that matter our country, a better and more free place to live.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About BridgeND

BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together Democrats, Republicans, and all those in between to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Tuesday nights (starting Sept.8) from 8-9pm in the McNeil room of LaFortune. They can be reached at [email protected] or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND

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