Carey and Horiuchi: Debating Without Deprecating
We can engage on contentious issues without condemning other opinions as morally bankrupt.
We have been following the controversy on the Campus Events listserv over the last few days regarding Ryan Spector ’19’s Feb. 2 guest column in The Dartmouth. To be clear, we support diversity and inclusivity. That said, we are troubled by the nature of the debate itself.
Spector was, as he acknowledged in his column, bitter about not being selected for the First-Year Trips directorate. He described the gender balance among those who were selected as “ludicrous” and the explanation he received for the decision as “an exercise in mental gymnastics” and “doublespeak.” Those are strong terms, and Spector went on to make arguments, centered on how identity was considered in the selection process, that challenge values deeply held among many in the Dartmouth community.
Yet in their criticism of the column, and of The Dartmouth for publishing it, many (though not all) Dartmouth organizations escalated the rhetoric further, decrying Spector and his column as “hateful,” “toxic,” “vicious,” “privileged,” “ignorant,” “patriarchal,” “white supremacist,” “racist,” “misogynist,” “homophobic,” “oppressive” and “endangering lives.”
We would suggest that it is counterproductive to label one’s adversary in a debate with this kind of language. It will not change minds or win hearts. It will drive away anyone in the middle ground and further polarize opinion. And the effect on open discussion of difficult ideas can only be chilling. Anyone who does not hew to established and codified positions will be afraid to express any opinion. Worse, it could encourage self-segregation, as students will feel secure only among those whose views are known and shared.
Among these messages, there was an argument that we think warrants quotation at length: “The Dartmouth has suggested that those who disagree with the article write a response piece. However, a response would only validate the author and imply that his opinions are credible and worthy of debate.”
Dartmouth holds itself to be one of the premier institutions of higher education in the world. On this campus, we are obligated to engage with ideas, even those we find objectionable.
We hold as a core principle that confronting ideas that challenge us makes us better thinkers and better people. We encourage all parties to this debate to step back and consider how we can engage with each other as an intellectual community.
To repeat, we support efforts to increase diversity and inclusivity at Dartmouth. But we regard these as complex, and often contentious, issues and we encourage all members of the community to share their opinions with civility and mutual respect. We can criticize each other’s ideas vigorously. But we need to remember what principles we hold in common. Let’s start with a willingness to listen without demonizing each other.
Carey and Horiuchi are professors of government at Dartmouth.
The Dartmouth welcomes guest columns. We request that guest columns be the original work of the submitter. Submissions may be sent to both email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions will receive a response within three business days.