Our Quality of Dialogue

Ashwin Prabaharan ’26

Opinions Editor 

Last week, Holy Cross found itself embroiled in a controversy that gripped campus dialogue. An article published in the most recent issue of the Fenwick Review criticizing the Student Government Association’s budgetary practices received wide condemnation from the student body for what was perceived as lambasting the budgets of Multicultural Student Organizations and Identity-Based Organizations. These organizations issued a shared statement condemning the Review of its article and defended their budgets, stating that their respective clubs’ missions were to promote cultural events and diversity that required those budgetary requests. The SGA emphasized the statement and released their budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year under mounting pressure from the student body, only after several leaks of the approved budget were discovered. The Review retorted that the article did not seek to offend such organizations and was instead a critique of the SGA’s budgetary decisions. In recent days, however, growing concerns have emerged over those decisions, setting off questions on how or why particular RSOs (recognized student organizations) are given their respective funding. Holy Cross continues to grapple with the fallout from the article and the visceral backlash it received, prompting questions over the Review’s position on campus, the role of cultural and identity-based campus organizations, and the future of free speech at Holy Cross.

I feel uniquely motivated to publish my perspective, not merely for my personal holdings, but for my aspirations for this campus; which I have come to adore very much over the last year. Forming friendships, seeking professional and personal mentors, and discussing grand questions with great minds define my experiences here so far. I seek opportunities for opposition, challenging the way I think, and the perspectives I’ve come to harbor. I seek moderation, striving to learn more than I hope to impart. But the last several days have revealed the truly divisive nature of our campus, and moderation is clearly the first on the chopping block. “Pick a side, pick one now.” “It’s black and white, right and wrong are obvious here.” It seems Holy Cross does not require a debate, a lively discussion of the questions posed before us. We have resorted to the primal urgency developed by our current, politically entrenched state of reasoning, a rush to judgment, an impulse to give way to shouting matches rather than to ask your opponents to the table and serve them with a merited conversation, depicted very well on both sides. We cannot confront our naysayers with the faults of their own argument, and instead label them with disparaging or witty names. “He’s a right-wing fascist.” “He’s a liberal, what would he know?” Two sides of a coin, unable to see the other and working to do everything in their power to further entrench themselves. No one wins, the middle is vanquished, and opportunities for reconciliation grow slimmer.

Holy Cross, while an esteemed institution dedicated to sending the best and brightest into the world to serve in many different fields, lacks productive dialogue and has proven to be an inhospitable environment for discourse on any meaningful level. Students have done their best by the interests of their communities, defending their viewpoints and uniting in solidarity when called for. Organizations defending themselves against criticism was completely warranted and reflected a dignified manner of rebutting such claims. The Review releasing a statement to assert their position and beliefs also reflected such thinking. The problem arises from the fact that instead of working to understand the differences in opinion between different manners of thinking about this issue, no one has stepped forward to seek discussion on it. We remain in perpetual silence, and instead return to our conclaves to further ingrain ourselves within our preferred way of thinking. We refrain from seeking challenges to our way of thinking. Both sides of many contemporary issues are guilty of this, and this is the testament of a hopefully objective writer holding a great interest in the quality of our debates. Instead of shutting down those we disagree with, instead of referring to them provocatively, and instead of heightening this sense of partisan contention, we must learn to be challenged.

“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” – John Milton. When confronted with an argument you find hateful, disgusting, and completely wrong, you should not shut them down with one-sided shouting. You fight back, giving them a front-row seat to an all-inclusive special designed to tear your opponent’s argument apart. Tell them why they are wrong, do not allow them to score points off your refusal to retort their arguments. Milton says it best, as he emphasizes the importance of speaking one’s mind, above all that we cherish. Offer your opponent the same liberty you wish to hold, but the great thing about such a mechanism is that we can use it with no limit. Merit, rhetoric, evidence, logic, reason, and truth ought to dictate how we perceive the great questions and issues of our time. 

The dawn of a new era of civility, decency, and productive dialogue is rapidly approaching Holy Cross at its doorstep. We can raise the quality of debate on our campus, for the leaders, innovators, and thinkers of tomorrow. Let that be our legacy.

Featured image courtesy of Penn State Exploring the “Promise and Peril of Dialogue”

Categories: Opinions

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