Last week, Griffin Edwards wrote an opinion piece that criticized the Political Awareness Committee’s (PAC) decision to bring Angela Davis to campus as the Spring Speaker. Edwards claimed that the decision to bring Davis “reinforces the dominant liberal political narrative … fails to acknowledge any other political creeds [and fails to] foster inter-ideology discussion.” Edwards goes on to say that PAC speakers should reflect ideological diversity in the American political sphere in order to facilitate political dialogue on campus.
This opinion encouraged me to question the degree to which diversity is valuable. Do we value diversity for the sake of diversity? The word ‘diversity’ has become a trendy buzzword in the context of contemporary social activism. It is important to slow down and reflect on what this word means and why this concept is important.
The most common explanation of the importance of exposure to diverse thought is that a multitude of thoughts challenge people to examine and carefully think through their own beliefs for the purpose of constructing a stronger belief system. This assumes a process in which the most reasonable or beneficial belief can be cultivated through cross-examination and refinement. It is a critical process that is only possible when people are exposed to a wide range of beliefs. Diversity of thought is valuable insofar as it makes the aforementioned critical process possible. What we value, then, is not diversity for diversity’s sake, but for whatever may result through this critical process.
Also essential to this critical process is that the challenging views and thoughts are substantive and intelligently-formed such that they are worthwhile for others to engage with. A claim made in favor of small government can be worthwhile if it is based on a well-formed theory that appeals to personal liberty or something similar. A call for increased diversity of thought on campus that even includes Nazis, as Edwards proposed, overtly appeals to an ideology that should not be engaged with because it is both ethically disgusting and contentless. It takes more than simply “conservative speakers” to challenge the “liberal” mindset of St. Olaf students. To truly challenge currently held beliefs, we need to make sure the challenging views are intelligent, substantive and ethical in order to engage with them. We will not accomplish anything by soliciting speakers to come to campus who hold beliefs that the majority of students disagree with simply because these views are in direct disagreement with mainstream political thought. Doing so will only increase diversity on a superficial level and will not amount to anything worthwhile.
While I agree that the general political atmosphere at St. Olaf is dominantly liberal, I suspect that much of this can be described as “pseudo-liberalism,” as the liberal beliefs of many St. Olaf students seem to only scratch the surface of liberal ideology. Let’s face it, it’s much easier to adopt “liberal ideologies” as they appeal to our empathy, rather than “conservative ideologies” at face value. It is much easier to give yourself a pat on the back and feel good about yourself when you adopt “liberal ideologies” – and many do, without actually examining or understanding the foundations of their beliefs. While Davis’s speech contained typical talking points from leftist ideologies, the speech also made clear the basis of progressivism – content that is largely missing in St. Olaf political dialogue, despite most agreeing with the implications of such content.
Davis’s speech was valuable because it allowed us to understand the foundations of our beliefs and lead us to examine them more critically. Merely going to her speech is not enough. We must engage further by doing more reading and always remaining critical of every thought presented to us.
Yishu Dai ’18 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Glendale, Calif. She majors in philosophy and political science.