A recent Herald article on affirmative action noted that among Brown students interviewed, “none who opposed the use of both race and socioeconomic status in admissions agreed to go on record with their opinions.” This is revealing about the Brown community as a whole: On such an overwhelmingly liberal campus, certain areas of discussion leave people uncomfortable in expressing their views if they do not match the majority’s. After a semester marked by controversy both on national and campus-wide levels, the Editorial Page Board urges students to consider the elements of productive discussion and the exchange of ideas.
A healthy discourse involves mutual respect and a commitment to allowing all voices. That students do not wish to voice minority opinions is disturbing, since it implies that we foster an intellectual environment hostile to those holding particular viewpoints. We do not endorse these viewpoints, but we find it important to note that such discourse is not productive – and in fact ceases to be discourse – if only one voice is heard. As opinionated students we often feel the need to passionately defend our values and beliefs. While this is wonderful for many reasons, we should not promote our viewpoints so vehemently that we discourage those who might disagree with us from being heard.
A varied discourse is crucial to our learning. How can we form convincing, rational and justified arguments for our beliefs if there is no forum in which to debate? How will we be challenged to broaden our intellectual horizons if we marginalize opportunities to address contrasting opinions? We are often harshly critical of political discourse on a national level, where it seems politicians, pundits and other prominent figures barely stop to acknowledge an opponent’s point before either taking it out of context or delegitimizing it by attempting to paint the other person as anti-American or idiotic. Yet we often engage in the same kind of ad hominem attacks, bypassing any productive or meaningful dissection.
This is something the Internet, for all its benefits of interconnectivity, has made quite simple, as anyone who has entered into a spirited but ultimately unproductive flame war online can attest to. It is even noticeable on web boards specific to Brown. Eyed@Brown, comments on various journalistic ventures and the College Hill Troll Community (hilarious though it often is) all demonstrate, usually in the comments section, how some students use anonymity to bypass any kind of civil conversation and cheerfully attack those who differ in opinion.
We acknowledge that it is incredibly frustrating to argue with someone whose views do not conform to our own, and most of us have had that one person in class who seems to miss the point entirely. But without the ability to debate and converse in an academic environment with something that even resembles civility and intellectual respect, the amount of learning that occurs on campus is questionable. If we, as a student body, cannot maintain rational discourse even here, that does not bode well for when we leave the “Brown bubble” and have to engage on a daily basis with people with whom we might have even less in common. We urge students to consider the limits of their own predispositions and find ways to be open to other viewpoints.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Daniel Jeon and Annika Lichtenbaum, and its members, Georgia Angell, Sam Choi and Rachel Occhiogrosso. Send comments to email@example.com.