OpinionFree speech is not always agreeable

In response to Josh Anaya's "A case against the idolization of Theresa May"
Gabriel OdomApril 24, 202043042 min
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Illustration by Andrea Nebhut

Recently I had the chance to peruse Joshua Anaya’s op-ed on Theresa May speaking on campus. His response did not surprise me, and he made some articulate and concerning points. But I am not writing simply to agree with him — I cannot imagine that would make for an interesting read.

I found myself shaking my head at his response because it so typically represents the attitude of many progressives. As someone who actively supported Senator Warren during the primaries, I have plenty to disagree with when it comes to Theresa May. Does that mean that I think those I disagree with should not come to campus? Absolutely not.

The principles of diversity do not just extend to those of differing races, genders, sexual orientations and class, but also to thought. Far too often, we find ourselves confined within the smug, entitled, insulated leftism that accompanies most private universities. I myself have been guilty of that at times. But does that mean that we should fall victim to it permanently? Should we reject alternative viewpoints? No. The enlightened rhetoric of our glorious Constitution should serve as a guide in all our endeavors, and there was a reason why speech was included in the First Amendment.

Unlike what Anaya argued, I believe that bringing May to campus does not serve as a canonization or overt endorsement of her views. Rather it is the sacred, enshrined duty of Trinity to ensure that our liberal arts education is carried out to its fullest and that includes exposing us to viewpoints we deem objectionable.

Does that mean that we should lay back and accept what she had to say without question? No. Just because she is someone important does not mean that we have to censor our justifiable concerns about her actions as an elected figure. I applaud those who had the bravery to hand out pamphlets and argue against May. I would never say that they should not do that. Rather what I object to is the idea that we should only bring people to campus who are permissible within normalized standards of morality.

It should not be the responsibility of Trinity to regulate political speech nor the government. Morality and belief are matters of perspective, not orthodoxy, and we should behave accordingly. Morality changes with the times, and while I am firm in my belief that there are certain moral truths, such as the inherent superiority of republicanism, I do not believe that any governing institution should be setting a precedent of regulating speech because it supports the idea that it is the function of government to suppress speech it deems immoral. This could lead to tyranny. To the suppression of ideas that we might find not just permissible but just.

Some might question this approach. Should we permit Nazis or members of the Klan to march openly in our streets? Most everyone is filled with disgust at the idea. And while the comparison of May to a Nazi or a Klansman is a stretch, the logic is the same.

But I would like to direct the reader to the matter of precedent. Liberties we cede to the University or the Government are liberties we will not get back. It is the responsibility of Trinity as an institution that champions diversity in all forms to bring a variety of figures to campus, regardless of their political beliefs. In turn, we have the right to protest them. But does that mean that we should endeavor to prohibit them from speaking? No. Because open civil dialogue is the lifeblood of democracy, serving to further enrich our campus experience, deepen our tolerance, as well as perhaps change some of our views by exposure to new ideas. I would expect nothing less from an institution that champions freedom to invite a diverse group of speakers to our campus.

Gabriel Odom

4 comments

  • Joshua Anaya

    April 24, 2020 at 9:16 pm

    I appreciate the time you took to read my article and to articulate such a thorough response. Additionally, I don’t wish to put words in your mouth by writing what I am.
    I think the viewpoint you are taking in this article is horribly privileged, bigoted, and minimizing to the standards that universities should uphold for their students.
    Championing diversity should not include “ideological disparity,” as one side of the ideological spectrum victimizes the diverse communities even you take time to mention (gender and sexual minorities, Black and Indigenous POC, working-class people, etc). My “smug, entitled, leftism” is out of a respect and solidarity for these people on and off campus.
    Secondly, you mention the U.S. Constitution and the right to free speech. While I don’t deny that as a right to people here in the states, I want to outline some of the inalienable human rights outlined by United Nations Covenants that apply to people across the world, that May openly broke. These include the right to a decent existence, decent housing, education, culture, equality, nondiscrimination, and the right to peace. I would argue that drone strikes, mass deportation, housing denials, and the defunding of healthcare are sufficient examples of these rights being forcefully stripped away from people.
    I am not taking away May’s right to free speech. I am simply exercising my own.
    Whatever “dialogue” May sparked on campus was only fueled by her previous hateful acts against communities that we are privileged to consider “diverse.” Her presence on Trinity’s campus signaled not an exposure to new ideas, but a threat to students who might be low-income, LGBTQ+, or a part of a racial minority that May’s policies would have gladly hurt without hesitation.
    Finally, I am not the one who needs to “deepen my tolerance.” My standards of “morality” only exist because of the suffering that my friends and family members have faced under similar rhetorics as hers. Trinity itself is founded off of slave labor and the exploitation of indigenous land. Whatever standards of unorthodox “morality” you hope to see are those that have historically sought to exterminate the communities whose land we stand on. It is out of privilege that students at Trinity are able to see May’s speech as “further enriching their campus experience” rather than as a symbol of hatred.
    Please take this all into account when thinking about the “sacred, enshrined” duty of our university. I am not here as someone looking to expand my viewpoints on racism and imperialism. I won’t silence myself to make space for her, or anyone else that has threatened me and my community.

    Reply

    • Emma

      April 24, 2020 at 9:33 pm

      Additionally, “free speech” thing protects you from our government. If you get attacked by someone for saying something, the charges aren’t about the attack being unconstitutional, it’s that it’s an “unsolicited” attack/not in self-defense.
      Basically: talk shit, get hit is CONSTITUTIONALLY LEGAL as long as you’re not acting on the part of our government.

      Reply

    • Richard Ferrara

      April 26, 2020 at 11:11 am

      Joshua, I got lost in your reply to Gabriel. Your response was diluted and rambling. I appreciate your intellect but you need more years to see both sides of the discussion as does Gabriel.

      Reply

  • Emma

    April 24, 2020 at 9:34 pm

    We absolutely should not give white supremacy a platform to speak and your claim that there’s no real moral standard or whatever because everyone has different ideas of morality is bs. There is absolutely absolutely a line to draw and it’s very telling that people refuse to do it. Letting people spread their message and giving them a platform is supporting them, even if there are protesters. It’s also giving others a chance to join them and spread more hate.

    Reply

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