Diversity, Like Free Speech, Should Not Be Mandated

By Anthony D. Riker

Diversity is a fundamentally good thing. I love eating ethnic foods and learning about cultures other than my own. I also enjoy hearing and reading about ideas other than my own. I could not imagine a world where these benefits of diversity did not exist. In fact, life would be pretty dull if humans and ideas came in prepackaged forms.

Colin Relihan (“Diversity is Fundamental to Intellectual Progress,” March 21, p. 3) and Michael Murai (“Senior Questions Use of Free Speech Labels,” March 21, p. 2) essentially make the same point on the benefits of diversity, and I suspect that we would all agree on a number of points. I too, condemn the recent menorah vandalism and written racial epithets. The hate-related incidents that we experienced have no place on our campus, particularly when it involves destruction of property, public or otherwise. Where I disagree with Relihan and Murai is how such diversity is to come about. If we seek to create diversity through mandatory dorm-wide meetings or sensitivity training, we are using force to achieve these aims. I have yet to meet a person who changed their views as a result of force; rather, it cements such ideas that we rally against.

There seems to be a fundamental contradiction in both Relihan and Murai’s assertion that the university should encourage diversity by creating an environment where minorities are protected from harmful speech. The purpose of education is to allow us to develop tools, such as reason and logic, by which we can discover truth. By labeling speech hateful or derogatory, we are in fact imposing judgements of what is right and wrong. It is this imposition of paternalism from above that I find very disturbing and dangerous to such an environment of free academic discourse.

I, like Relihan and Murai, would like to live in a world where people are responsible enough to respect one another. However, such an idealistic world does not exist. I know what it feels like to have someone make derogatory comments regarding a facet of my being I have no control over. No one can completely protect me from a world that sometimes acts irrationally, but I have realized that reality can be the best learning experience and I am a stronger person for that. Sometimes ignoring people who act ignorantly and insensitively towards others and leaving them to their folly is the best solution. Freedom of speech is not something limited towards the expression of ideas we dislike but also applies to speech that can uplift and empower others, giving them a voice against forms of derogatory speech.

The fundamental problem with categorizing any kind of speech as offensive lies with the question of who makes that judgement. This is indeed an awesome power and one that should not be taken lightly. Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong are but a few of the many people in history who have exercised that power. The idea of “one truth” is an idea that we should leave strictly in the past, particularly if we value the diversity of ideas. This imposition of a community standard demeans the concept of free speech and expression, but above all, it oppresses non-conformists within that community.

Just last Friday, I was sitting in Lafayette Park across from the White House enjoying the nice weather and eating my lunch. There was a homeless man screaming at the top of his lungs ranting and uttering all sorts of vulgarities. Of course, I would have liked to have some peace and quiet as did some other people in the park, but I realized that this man has the right to say what he wants. My solution was to just simply sit away from this man and ignore him. When we silence one person, we are silencing countless others.

I realize that many people in the Georgetown community were hurt by the hate-related incidents, but there are other more constructive means for dealing with the situation at hand rather than trying to silence people or resorting to forceful measures to impose diversity and understanding. We all have the benefit of membership in university clubs and the opportunity to find the necessary peer support systems to help us deal with these issues. We need to see such incidents as learning experiences and take whatever good that can come out of these incidents and move on. If we let ourselves be continually bogged down by these incidents and dwell on them, then the oppressors will have won.

Anthony D. Riker is a senior in the College.

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