Respect all dissent
Two weeks ago, performance artist Holly Hughes came to
campus and invited us to welcome dissent. She exhorted us not to feel
that the current war on terrorism inhibited critical, ironic, or sardonic
comments about President Bush.
Not surprisingly, the campus respectfully greeted her. They
permitted her to articulate ad infinitum her disbelief in President Bush's
election, her difficulty in protesting on the steps of the Supreme Court,
and her shock that comedian Bill Mahr was chastised for saying that the
September 11 hijackers were "not cowards."
This past weekend, The Vagina Monologues also came
to campus. It sold out Kresge Auditorium and hopefully raised a lot of
money for Sexual Assault Services of Midcoast Maine (SASMM). Although
it was undoubtedly for a good cause, the play precipitates controversy
wherever it goes. That is inevitable, since it deals so overtly with what
most people have been taught for years not to discuss; the most intimate
details of sexuality.
Yet a more detailed examination of these two events should
illustrate that a blatant hypocrisy exists not only here at Bowdoin, but
perhaps more so at other campuses across America. As co-editor of The
Patriot, Bowdoin's more conservative paper, I witness firsthand the incongruity
in Bowdoin's reaction to conservative and liberal dissent.
Liberal dissent-whether it's from Cornel West, Holly Hughes,
The Vagina Monologues, Angela Davis-is always embraced and celebrated.
I know from personal experience that many who are offended by the public
and unimpeded displays of sexuality found in The Vagina Monologues
feel afraid to express their concern. Often those who would express those
beliefs are frightened that their ideas will be dismissed as old-fashioned
or that their personalities will be tarnished as "intolerant."
How many Bowdoin students know that Angela Davis explicitly endorsed the
jailing of Soviet dissidents?
Holly Hughes asked us to fight the "death of irony."
Yet I believe the true irony lies in the reaction of many universities-administrators
and students-when it comes to protecting the rights of all dissidents.
As Campus editor Katherine Mangu-Ward writes in the spring
2002 issue, "American universities supposedly count tolerance and
openness among their most important values, but some of the most prominent
censorship cases have come from students whose speech has been limited
by university administrators."
That edition of the magazine is littered with instances
where universities either outrightly censored conservative groups or made
it unnecessarily difficult for them to hold "pro-America" events.
Some administrators have forced students to remove flags, banners, or
any expression of support for America or her troops.
The culpability does not rest singularly with administrators.
At Columbia University, the student government voted down the charter
of Students United for Victory after approving the charter of the pacifist
People for Peace weeks earlier.
Although Bowdoin's intolerance to conservative dissent is
refreshingly tepid compared to other schools, our record is not impeccable.
Last spring, The Patriot received word that certain student groups and
professors would not give David Horowitz's advertisement against slave
reparations a respectful hearing.
The reaction to the February edition of The Patriot
should also force us to examine our tolerance of diverse opinion. After
writing a clearly tongue-in-cheek article that listed ten good reasons
why women should vote for Republicans, my colleague Katie Horsman has
been inundated with vitriolic, sometimes bordering on hateful, responses.
The language in some contains phrases I would never repeat,
let alone print in a newspaper article. Some students, apparently lacking
the courage Ms. Horsman showed in attaching her name to her statement,
have taken to the childish task of anonymously plastering quotations from
Ms. Horsman's article on walls, identifying themselves only as the "Bowdoin
Society for the Elimination of Idiocy."
I'm glad to see we are so tolerant of differing points of
view at our diverse college.
Near the end of a "pro-America" rally at Amherst
College last October, a small group of radical students disrupted the
event and burned a flag in protest then dispersed before they could be
identified. Following the bizarre event, Amherst sophomore Theodore Hertzberg
wittily uttered, "Amherst is 25 square miles surrounded by reality."
The same could be said for Bowdoin or most other liberal arts schools. In Mr. Hertzberg's "reality," those who fight for the flag are praised while those who drape their naked bodies in it are ostracized. Neither the town nor the gown is right. On campuses, and in America, all forms of dissent should be respected.