Importance of free speech

Dawn Nowacki, Associate dean of faculty, professor

To the editor,

In response to Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt’s op ed of May 17th, I’d like us to consider the following.

I agree that change at Linfield does not happen quickly, and that we are behind the times with regard to embracing diversity in all of its manifestations. Certainly there are unacknowledged and unconscious power relations at work, and awareness of them should be fostered. Many of us do this in our classes in ways that allow proponents of diverse viewpoints to speak and to be heard. Giving voice to historically marginalized groups, though, is not zero sum. It should not come at the cost of silencing historically privileged groups. This just creates hostility and less willingness to listen on the part of the privileged. It can easily degenerate into violence, on both sides, as we’ve seen recently. Privileged groups need to be brought skillfully to awareness of their privilege. It is better to have dialogue, even with people whose views appear to be inimical or hurtful to us, than to silence them into a fury that can burst out unpredictably in hate crimes. Only in dialogue can a deeper understanding be reached. Democratic institutions, including constitutional protections of rights, function to achieve peaceful conflict resolution. It’s what we do instead of using violence or intimidation to further our interests. You’re right, outrage probably cannot be expressed civilly. But is outrage a constructive response to provocation?

Do I agree with “rape culture,” racism, ethnocentrism, homophobia, misogyny? No, absolutely not. But it is important to counter those who would promote such things on this campus under the guise of free speech, not through silencing them, but by engaging with them and unveiling these ideas for what they are. Overt white supremacism, misogyny and hatred of LGBQTI people have not been strongly expressed in the events organized by the Young Americans for Liberty. In fact, these efforts are a lot more subtle. Just as becoming a terrorist is a gradual, step by step process, people do not become part of the alt right overnight. These events represent a kind of soft recruitment into more extremist ideas. The way to counter them is not to shut them down, but to discuss what is really going on, and to point out that the more extreme ideas behind the superficial reasonableness of the premises (men’s rights movement, free speech that includes an arguably ambiguous “Pepe the Frog”) are hateful and truly do harm people of color, those who have nonhegemonic sexual and gender orientations, and other marginalized groups. Perhaps some of the YAL organizers will not be convinced, but certainly other students who might be attracted by such views or the seemingly laudable way in which they are cast (i.e. free speech) need to hear what this discussion is really about.