There are a couple of characters who always pop up in my Columbia discussion classes. You know who they are—anyone who’s had two weeks of Contemporary Civilization could pick them out.
There’s Defensive Christian, Angry Jewish Guy, Awkward Token Engineer Who Thought Lit Hum Would Be Fun, and Zoned Out Athlete.
And we prize each and every one. How could we claim to be the recipients of a liberal arts education without experiencing the cherished annual Columbia College tradition of watching DC and AJG fight over whether the Book of John was the work of a half-deranged member of a radical Jewish sect or of divine prophecy? I shudder at the thought.
But if there’s one person whom I cannot get behind (metaphorically speaking), it’s Feel-Good Fannie.
I love Fannie. She’s always there to chastise those of us who enjoyed Pride and Prejudice a little too much, letting us know that the book is, in fact, a heteronormative trash novel that seeks eternal male suzerainty. In a club meeting this weekend, I am happy to report that I spent 10 minutes locked in an existential battle with her over whether the scientific word “fieldwork” in a potential flier was too reminiscent of slavery—a valuable use of time, to be sure. In a seminar discussion on the First Amendment today, Fannie let us know that debate topics that “could offend others” should be prohibited entirely.
Scratch that. I freaking hate Feel-Good Fannie.
Usually, she is a minor annoyance: the politically correct policewoman who ensures none of us step over the line and confront issues too directly. Why risk stepping on people’s toes when you can refuse to walk completely? But today felt like a step too far—it is a dangerous line of thinking. While squashing the expression of differing opinions might be fulfilling, it does little to advance debate or confront logical fallacies in either argument. Rather, it brushes diverging opinions under the rug, creating an environment where it is uncomfortable to express minority opinions for fear of condemnation and censure.
College should not be easy. It should be tough—it should push your judgments to their limits. It should force you to re-evaluate yourself in light of new perspectives and information. I have yet to meet the 18-year-old who had the world figured out. I would hope that exposure to new people and ideas would make you re-examine preconceptions and confront them with a renewed vigor and open mind. Who wants a university of unanimous, quiet agreement, where no one speaks up for fear of offending someone else? I didn’t come to Columbia, or New York for that matter, to hear the same PC Maureen Dowd taglines dropped every time we approach a “touchy subject.” I came here because I wanted to be argued with.
Unfortunately, I feel that too often we take the easy way out. We condemn and disparage foreign or uncomfortable positions without looking into the arguments and circumstances behind them. Take gay marriage, for example. Have you ever heard someone on campus seriously argue against its passage? I have not—as a somewhat-casual member of the College Republicans, I would be well placed to hear that debate should it occur. Is it then true that 100 percent of Columbians are in support of equal marriage rights? It’s possible, but doubtful. Polling shows only a slim majority of Americans are supporters. I find it highly unlikely that Columbia is so detached from the American consensus that we are all ardent opponents of Prop 8. Yet not once have I heard someone voice support on this campus for “traditional marriage.” I hesitate at resurrecting the ghastly specter of the safe spaces “debate,” but anyone who had the unfortunate privilege of attending that forum sober could tell you that the alleged “dialogue” would be better branded a tawdry exercise in censorship through bullying.
This is not to say that all speech is valid—the recent firestorm over Barnard-related Bwog comments comes to mind. A line should be drawn somewhere: A burning cross demonstration on the Sundial would (although protected under law) be unwelcome. Regardless, could we not encourage a little more difference of opinion? Could we react with a touch less outrage and derision? We get it—you’re pro-choice. You think pro-life people are women-hating zombies who rise up from Iowa and Minnesota every two years to fill Congress with Tea Partiers. But guess what—they exist, and they come bearing argument. Is it right to restrict their opinion under the guise of “political correctness” and fear of offending someone else? At the very least, we can agree that silencing them does not change minds. Open and frank discussion is necessary for us to achieve any hope of understanding. I can’t help feeling that Feel-Good Fannie only gets in the way.
Andrew Godinich is a Columbia College junior majoring in sociology and Portuguese studies. He is the Latin America and Caribbean affairs correspondent for the Columbia Political Review. Too Be Frank runs alternate Thursdays.