Editor's Note: This Op-Ed is in reference to the story, "Students petition selection of speaker Kathleen Parker."
College is a place where you come to have your views challenged, and where you can learn more about the world to form more educated opinions for yourself. College is not meant to be a comfortable place — not physically or mentally — but intellectually.
Having your views challenged is an important aspect of that experience, and one of the unique qualities of being a citizen in the United States. You are free to voice your opinion through speech, press or by protest. It’s guaranteed in our Constitution.
So when speakers come to a university and challenge your views, you should never vote to silence them. Listen to them.
Kathleen Parker, the most widely syndicated columnist in the United States, will be speaking at Elon University Oct. 4 at McCrary Theater, giving the Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture. In response, many Elon students and people outside the Elon community have voiced displeasure in this decision and have even gone as far as making a petition to have Parker removed as speaker for this event.
Many people agree with Parker’s opinions, and many do not. Some of her views are controversial, especially her opinion pieces regarding rape and “the war on men.” These views have been seen as detrimental to an Elon community that is fighting to end such cultures depicted in Parker’s work. I have even read some say that it would bring “damage” to a school already suffering from sexual assaults.
Regardless of the politics behind Parker’s work, it is important not to dismiss the danger of removing someone from speaking based on their views.
Removing someone from speaking sets a precedent that may not be seen as a big deal in the present, but could silence those in the future. In revoking someone being able to speak at an institution, you are setting an example in deciding whom you want to hear — therefore establishing yourself as a place where your own views are not challenged.
Where you have the opinion to express your beliefs, as Parker does, you also have the right to listen and respond to those beliefs. It is downright necessary to do so. That’s what maintains a free and open society and keeps discussion flowing.
I have also read from some in the Elon community who say they are “all for thoughtful discussion” and that “it’s not about a difference of opinion,” that having Parker speak at Elon is “an attack on all things Elon has been working towards.” I have seen the arguments that claim Elon hosting Parker for the lecture is an endorsement to her beliefs.
I do not recall uproar at having prior speakers at Elon like former President George H.W. Bush or the former General and Secretary of State Colin Powell — speakers whose opinions and actions could have warranted protest similar to that of Parker.
Having Parker speak for the Pulitzer Prize Lecture does not mean Elon endorses her message. Just as if Elon hosted presidential candidates Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would not mean that they endorse their message.
Almost all speakers who come to Elon have a Q&A session after they give a lecture. This is where anyone at the University can come to question someone on his/her opinions and offer a rebuttal. This is where you can dispute someone’s claims with your own researched facts rather than denying they speak at all.
Parker’s work has merit and a Pulitzer Prize to her name. If you don’t believe in her message, that’s fine. Everyone has an opinion and is entitled to it. But in petitioning to silence her, you are petitioning the very thing that makes college special: listening to words that challenge you.
So listen to what Kathleen Parker has to say. When she has a Q&A session, ask her tough questions about her views and offer your own. Maybe you’ll have a change in opinion, maybe you won’t. But don’t offer the excuse of fragility or the belief that having a speaker on campus means the endorsement of that person.