A university is supposed to be a place where debate flourishes and people can exchange ideas freely and intellectually – even when those ideas are controversial. Recently, however, university administrators and student groups have come under increasing fire from individuals both inside and outside of the Georgetown community for permitting various speakers and conferences to be hosted on campus.

Bottom line: Don’t stifle debate by restricting others’ rights to free speech and assembly.

Georgetown students have many perspectives and come in all different political stripes. Although we disagree often and strongly on a lot of issues, most of the time we disagree respectfully. Such is the atmosphere that should exist at an academic institution composed of a diverse student body, like Georgetown. The university’s speech and expression policy seeks to preserve this atmosphere and states that “[t]o forbid or limit discourse contradicts everything the university stands for.” In this vein, students, and anyone in the academic community, are permitted to “invite any person to address the community,” according to the policy – meaning the university is open to all speakers who have been invited.

One recent on-campus speaker event that students successfully organized was the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life at the arriott Conference Center on Sunday, sponsored by GU Right to Life. The event centered on the controversial issue of abortion, and approximately 300 people attended, including 30 Georgetown students.

Upcoming conferences include Take Back Georgetown Day, which Georgetown’s College Republicans are sponsoring tomorrow in the ICC, and the fifth annual Palestine Solidarity Movement conference, which Students for Justice in Palestine will host on campus next month.

It is true that the PSM conference has been controversial, especially in comparison to the Right to Life and TBGD conferences. Several individuals – many from outside of the university – have written to University President John J. DeGioia demanding that the administration refuse to host the conference, because it calls for university divestment of funds from Israel.

The PSM, however, is a largely student-run group whose past conferences have been non-violent, and because Georgetown students have offered to host the conference, there is no reason why it should not take place on campus.

Free speech and the right to assemble are core democratic values, and any group invited by Georgetown students should be able to come and speak on campus. If you disagree with a group that has been invited to speak, you have a right, if not an obligation, to respond. After all, the best way to fight hateful speech is with more speech – by engaging in open dialogue. As an academic institution, we should not turn down speakers, regardless of how controversial they are. It is not the role of administrators to act as thought police.

Pro-Israeli students and student groups, including the Georgetown Israel Alliance, should be praised for supporting their fellow Hoyas’ freedom to host the PSM by not calling for the cancellation of the event. Likewise, all members of the Georgetown community should support pro-Israeli students and groups as they prepare their own upcoming campus initiatives, including an event called “Mothers for Peace,” which will feature Palestinian and Israeli women discussing prospects for regional peace.

Part of what makes Georgetown an elite academic institution is its open atmosphere and the frequent dialogue on controversial topics that takes place on campus. We must preserve that openness and foster constructive debate, not stifle it, because every student should be able to express his or her views. Restricting the speakers that members of the community invite to campus would only be to the detriment of Georgetown students.

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