The Arts and Lectures Committee is considering bringing Ward Connerly to speak at SRJC. Connerly, a former UC regent, is a controversial figure because he helped abolish affirmative action in California universities in 1996 as the key figure behind Proposition 209. Added to the controversy is Connerly’s own racial background, a mix of African American, Caucasian and Choctaw.
But this is not about Ward Connerly.
There are members of the faculty who feel that Connerly should not be given the opportunity to speak on campus. There have been threats of protest and questions about the purpose of the Arts and Lectures Committee.
But this is not about upset teachers.
SRJC has a responsibility to see to the health and well being of its students while they are on campus. The school also has an obligation to teach us students how to make decisions and evaluate information. This obligation does not extend to “protecting” us from political positions that members of staff and faculty may find abhorrent.
If they have done their job, if they have taught students how to use their minds, then we should be trusted to discern for ourselves whether or not a speaker’s views are valid. By sheltering us from controversy they do students a disservice.
The Arts and Lectures committee agreed to a compromise at its Oct 13 meeting. Connerly may speak Feb. 6, but alongside a Mills College professor who will provide an opposing viewpoint, a watered down solution. The committee should not have bowed to the threats of protest, but welcomed them.
Hearing a controversial speaker like Connerly is a perfect opportunity for students to make up their own minds while also offering classrooms a context for discussion. The job of the college is to educate us and make us people who are qualified to participate in the American democratic process.
This process is filled with contention and controversy. Shielding us from political disputes does not grow good citizens.
Shielding us from controversial views means SRJC is controlling the ideas to which we are exposed. This validates a tactic that has become all too common in American politics, the controlling of opinions by controlling the information that is made available. This is what Orwell warned us about in the novel “1984.”
To best prepare SRJC students for the conflict and dispute that comes with democracy, we need to be exposed to it. For us to be exposed, the college must be brave enough to play host to demonstrations and protests. The Arts and Lectures Committee must be willing to bring provocative figure to campus, without a politically correct counterpoint by another speaker.
And that is what this is about: having courage. The courage to expose us to the fires of political discourse. To be brave enough to say, bring on your protests. Have the nerve to challenge us to think.