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Monday, February 27, 2017

Sticks and Stones and Tigers For Liberty

Life of Wendts.
When Manfred and Jonah Wendt came to Trinity University in the fall of 2015 I'm not sure we knew what we were getting. We knew the twins would be a magnitude of two, but the seismic ripples they have created in student culture are exponentially higher. Those Wendt twins quickly connected with other right-wing, conservative students. And they started making noise.

We should thank them.

As I have written a number of times, I fully support free speech on college campuses. Ideas, even outlandish and kooky ones, are simply ideas. In order to avoid echo chambers of one-dimensional thought, students need others to push back on their ideas. Eventually, one-sided discussions from the left or right are not educational nor instructive.

Of course campuses are not values free. Most, if not all, espouse values of civility and respect. While campus climates should foster a variety of ideas they are under no obligation to bring in outside speakers who use our students to espouse or incite hate and violence. We would never allow a KKK rally on campus nor an Anti-Semitic speaker. We get to choose. But for the most part, we need to foster conversations and allow speakers with whom we disagree. Someone's presence generally can't really be "harmful." More likely, it is uncomfortable at best, and offensive at worst.

Students also have a choice. They can protest or they can boycott a speaker to undercut that person's legitimacy. Or, they can turn out en masse to challenge and outwit that person. One excellent example of this was the speaker, Ryan Anderson. No not that Ryan Anderson. No, that one either. This Ryan Anderson. Reportedly our rainbow-clad students came out in droves to argue, challenge, and disavow his facts and opinions on GLBTQ issues. THAT is what college is about. No speaker, no push-back. No push-back, no democracy.

It is happening again as Tigers for Liberty is sponsoring Dinesh D'Souza, who comes with his own baggage. But his message is connecting with some of our students. Others are raising issues, again, about whether or not we should allow this speaker. Just asking the question - to other students and to administrators - is an educational experience. Does the presence of a speaker mean the University endorses that speaker? If so, we would have few of interest. We had Michael Moore here once. We had Margaret Thatcher, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Marc Lamont Hill, Tim Wise, and Colin Powell too. Who is palatable to have and who isn't? We have speakers with strong opinions related to Palestine and Israel. This often rankles people who view the other side with deep distrust.

Deciding what to do about the speaker is another educational opportunity. Thanks to Tigers For Liberty, there are additional opportunities to learn. Is that group being used by off-campus groups, like Young America's Foundation? Is student government funding appropriate? Are they funding various viewpoints?

While we have had other conservative groups in the past, such as College Republicans, no group has gotten as much traction and attention as Tigers for Liberty. The Wendts and their group have a knack for offending. It's not just their views. Sometimes their event planning is sloppy. Sometimes they can be tone-deaf. And even they can't really believe having Milo to campus last year was a good idea. (Yes, that Milo... that one... yup, that one.)

Life would be simpler without Tigers For Liberty. I mean, it was. Many would say it was better. But what they deliver is an organization for others to push against, and challenge, and practice with. Our students need these educational experiences to prepare for life after Trinity. And conservative students have every right to be here. They work to keep the community honest by offering alternative viewpoints to a left-leaning environment.

Like many of our students, they bring their own charm. They are bright, witty, self-deprecating, and thoughtful. Not to mention brave. They have their own legitimate issues with how they are treated on campus too. It isn't easy speaking up sometimes. But that's what college discourse is all about. It isn't about free-speech zones (should be the whole campus), time-place-and-manner policies, hate-speech codes, and safe spaces. The last thing we need is to keep driving hate into the shadows. When we do, it doesn't go away. It just hides.

The best way to oppose ideas and words are with other ideas and words. And the best way to do that is to practice, especially with worthy adversaries. Thanks to Tigers for Liberty students now have them. NOW we're talking. And we should be.