By Max Hendrix ’23
On Monday night, Nov. 18, Heather Mac Donald was invited into the College of the Holy Cross’ Seelos Theater to present her controversial views on diversity programs in higher education and challenge students to enter into dialogue with someone who is opposed to their viewpoints. There is a large community of minorities within Holy Cross and diversity is regularly celebrated, thus it makes sense that viewpoints affecting minorities would be controversial on this campus. As students entered the theater, they were given a handout detailing “guidelines” for listening to a guest speaker. The guidelines asked all members of the audience to avoid disruptions to the speaker and to fellow audience members.
Phone messages buzzed throughout the theater as Mac Donald began to speak. The guidelines were given not because they wanted to infringe on anyone’s First Amendment rights, but to promote productive discussion. We have the right to disagree with what others think. In the context of a college or university, we have the right to argue against someone’s claims and force them to defend their beliefs. This right is a two-way street, however, and we must all be open to engaging in discussions with people we don’t agree with and allow them to voice their opinions.
“My oppression is not a delusion!”
“Your racism is not welcome here!”
“Your sexism is not welcome here!”
“Your homophobia is not welcome here!”
“YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE!”
These chants echoed the theater as protestors stood up 15 minutes into Mac Donald’s speech in an effort to prevent her from speaking, shattering any adherence to the guidelines that hoped to prevent something like this from happening. Rather than engaging in a helpful discourse, protestors filled the theater and discouraged or prevented others from attending (due to the maximum capacity), only to storm out and refuse to listen to anything else she had to say. Students chose to turn away and metaphorically plug their ears, blocking out an opinion that was in opposition to their own. There was no right or wrong, no winner or loser — it was a stalemate. The protestors failed to learn anything and failed to end her speech. After the protestors had stormed out, Mac Donald continued her speech with the extremely shrunken audience and then opened the floor to questions.
In fear of reaching a society that is too scared of offending one another to discuss controversial topics, all opinions should be allowed to be voiced. Everyone has a worldview in which certain opinions and beliefs are wrong and others are right, but the only way of discerning for oneself the difference between them is to hear what every side has to say. There is a fine line between healthy disagreement and disrespect, and the protest of Mac Donald’s speech made it dangerously counterproductive as an intellectual lecture. Yelling and screaming while someone is asking a question to a speaker doesn’t help you learn in any way, and it sure as hell doesn’t help anyone else in the audience hear what is being said. Mac Donald presented a rare opportunity for the Holy Cross community to actively engage with a conservative political commentator who disagrees with many of Holy Cross’ beliefs. I think we should have done better; I think we should have shown her the respect that she deserves as a guest speaker. If you disagree with her opinions, prove her wrong.
College is filled with young adults who have only experienced a fraction of their life and are constantly taking in new information that changes or strengthens their views about the world. Guest speakers, group discussions, and conferences are all put on by the College in an attempt to broaden students’ worldviews and encourage them to think deeply about what they believe and why they believe it. I would have loved to see more passionate debate between students and Mac Donald, a discussion that would have helped both sides to better understand their views by being forced to articulate and defend them. The few students who were able to question her got everyone in the room thinking in new and different ways. Diversity is all about inclusion of people; telling someone they are not welcome is the exact concept that diversity seeks to fight against. By yelling “you are not welcome here,” the demonstrators separated Mac Donald from her ideas and excluded her, doing exactly what they were fighting so hard against.