By Griffin Edwards ‘17
I’m disappointed in you, Oles.
After hearing about what’s going on at Mizzou, hearing of schools with safe spaces, students silenced in class and online, socially marginalized for their beliefs, I was quick to say, “Thank God I go to a place like St. Olaf, where all views are respected and free speech is so open. Oles are better than that.” Granted, I’ve heard a few students tell others “You can’t think like that” or “You can’t say that.” But overall, I strain my memory to find a time when I have been silenced. Previous articles that have been published here are have been challenged, but the counterarguments have largely been thoughtful and respectful. I encourage my readers to send me a Facebook message or email if they wish to discuss any issues I raise in greater detail, and I get a few responses each time I write. The worst that has happened to me personally was a Yik-Yak post reading “F— Griffin” (censorship mine).
Imagine my dismay, then, at the response of Oles- my friends, fellow students, and neighbors- to a series of blog posts by a close friend of mine.
My friend, who shall remain nameless- runs a blog where she espouses her beliefs freely. I believe that it is a good outlet for her, where she can be free of criticism and the cynicism of many Oles who bring different ideas to the table. She’s very conservative, but anyone that knows her personally knows that she is a genuinely kind, gentle, and respectful human being (not that being conservative means you are automatically a horrible person, despite what many Oles may say). I don’t agree with her, but I at least respect her as a rational human being, of the same value as myself. Which seems like a stretch for those fighting against her, even though it should be a basic assumption.
When members of the St. Olaf community stoop to such lows as online bullying, trolling, and hateful Yaks, I am repulsed. Just because you don’t agree with someone doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk to them. Multiple times on her blog and in person she has made it clear that she takes the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach. Is this hateful? To say that I hate something for being immoral to me, does that make me hateful? If I believe robbing a store is immoral, do I automatically hate all robbers? If I said I hated that people robbed stores, would you brand me as a robber-phobe? A robber-ist? Silence me? Say I’m a terrible person because I don’t like robbers, even if all I said was that I don’t like that people rob stores?
Isn’t it someone’s right to disagree with you without you being mean to them? Talking about them as people behind their backs? Calling her just dead wrong without even giving her views a serious chance? Does it make sense to bully someone into believing what you believe?
You can disagree with the ideology. No one will fault you for that. “I think she’s incorrect because of X, Y, and Z.” But it is absolutely inappropriate to say that she is, as a person, hateful, ignorant, or misguided. I’d be willing to bet that as someone whose values are not widely shared on this campus (when she says she’s a minority on campus, that’s what she means, and it’s true), she’s delved more deeply into these issues than the average Ole. It’s easy to go with the grain. It takes real courage, real fortitude, real conviction, to say something unpopular.
We don’t have a natural right to free speech to talk about the weather. We have it to tackle tough issues. An appropriate use is to discuss tricky ideas. Police brutality, abortion, wealth inequality. St. Olaf prides itself in producing students that are willing to take on hairy issues and make good of them. But I fear that the college has failed to produce decently respectful human beings, who instead inappropriately- and hypocritically- would attack someone for their beliefs. You attack someone for so-called hate speech with your own insults? You are therefore guilty of your own accusation. If they truly are hateful, show them why. Don’t just dismiss it as misguided.
I’m disappointed, Oles. We talk a good game: we preach open-mindedness, respect, and integrity. We say that we provide a friendlier community than other schools. But we don’t walk it. And that’s a shame, that we can’t leave someone be and respect them, even if we disagree with them.
You say you want diversity. You say you like talking with people from different backgrounds. You say you want a global perspective.
Because it seems like you want more of an echo chamber than anything else.