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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Views on race should be discussed, not censored

Two weeks ago I wrote a column calling for an end to the practice of using race in university admissions. While many took offense to the way the column was written, I was surprised by how many people took offense to the existence of my ideas and to me personally. When I wrote the column, I thought I was simply contributing another idea to the campus climate that would enliven our discussions of race. I knew some readers would agree and others would disagree, but I was certain that I wouldn't find an environment that was hostile to me or to my arguments.

Boy was I wrong. The personal attacks and calls for censorship I faced in the weeks after sharing my opinion, as well as the messages from students who agree with my views but have never spoken out, have shown me that Madison is hostile to a certain type of diversity, the diversity of ideas. While my ideas about race and admissions were not racist or radical, they were mistakenly perceived as hostile to minorities.

This is the same phenomenon that occurs with the opinions of those who are pro-life, are against gay marriage, or support the deportation of illegal immigrants. While these are common and justifiable viewpoints, each of them is hostile toward another viewpoint. Unlike an issue such as health-care reform, where the debate is about the best way to accomplish the same goal, these topics are about which goals to set. Someone's goal will be completely rejected in favor of a different idea, and there is no room for compromise.

This all-or-nothing dichotomy is what makes Madison's climate hostile when it comes to sharing viewpoints. Students who encounter a viewpoint that opposes not only their own opinion but also the values and goals they have set for themselves naturally lash out. Faced with what they see as an attack rather than a different opinion, it is natural to attack the person responsible or to write off that person's ideas as racist, radical or undeserving of expression. This mode of response, especially when expressed in large groups and by both sides, creates an environment where it is intimidating and unproductive to share a conflicting opinion.

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If we want our campus to be a place where ideas and opinions, even those that are directly counter to a different viewpoint, can be shared and discussed openly, we have to change the way we talk about and respond to conflicting goals. Rather than only discussing if we should be using race in admissions, which naturally creates disputants, we should be discussing the best way to end all types of racism and discrimination. A person like myself, who wants to reach this goal but thinks affirmative action is not a good way to do it, should not be understood to be attacking anyone. Rather, I and many others are presenting a different way to get to the same goal. If we frame our discussions so we have the same goals, hostility will drop out of the picture and be replaced by reason and honesty.

Admittedly, for many topics it is not possible to have a dialogue where everyone has the same goals at heart. In these situations, where one side's success means another's failure, it is crucial to state what our goals are and why we hold those objectives. If we can understand why someone is advocating a course of action contrary to our own we will be able to understand that person's motivations. Rather than attacking me personally or writing off my viewpoint as worthless, we will be able to examine the reasons why we hold differing views.

When you encounter a viewpoint that conflicts with your own, think about how you will respond. Will your rebuttal discourage different ideas or will it encourage further discussion without personal attacks? Unless we support an environment where even those who do not share our goals and values can speak freely, we can never hope to establish progress. You cannot change the ideas and mindsets of those who keep their dissent silent.

Encouraging different viewpoints which are hostile toward our own can be a painful process. But unless differing ideas are brought into the light and shared goals are established, we will continue to live on a campus where some differences of opinion are not respected.

Andrew Carpenter is a senior majoring in communication arts and psychology. We welcome all feedback. Please send responses to 

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