On October 29th there were two events.
At one, a New York City police commissioner was shouted down. The lecture hall in which he had been invited to speak and the street outside were crowded with angry, offended, frustrated people who did not share his views and were there to let him know it. Their story has been told, and they’ve been criticized and defended plenty already, but theirs wasn’t the only story in the room.
In the annex outside the lecture hall were other people who did not share the police commissioner’s views, but who wanted to hear what he had to say and how he would respond to their questions. As the shouting in the lecture hall continued, the organizers of the event asked the audience to vote on whether Kelly should be allowed to speak. The shouting did not subside, but in the seats beside the shouting people, and in the annex, hands quietly went up.
Across campus was another event, and hands were also going up. Another room was filled with disagreeing people, but after two hours of intense debate those same people reached a consensus. They voted unanimously, from all points on the political spectrum, to ask UCS to speak out against the influence of money in politics.
Brown is an angry place right now. Students are angry with President Paxson for ignoring their voice on coal divestment, and they are angry at an administration that seems to be rubbing salt in that fresh wound by giving a microphone to a man whose views they detest. President Paxson is angry that a vocal minority would have the gall to shut down what could have been an intense but informative discussion. Some are just angry because it’s been a hard couple of weeks. Every person at Brown right now seems to have an extremely good reason for their frustration. And many have taken the effort to express it, with extreme eloquence in a lot of cases.
To want to hear a dissenting voice is not the same as agreeing with it.
But the fact is that a lot of people don’t align themselves totally with the protestors. The people in the annex raised their hands to hear Kelly speak, and it’s important for them—and everyone else—to know that the alternative to anger, anger so strong that it turns people out in droves, isn’t just compliance. There is room for discussion and debate even in circumstances as polarizing as this, maybe not to resolve differences between factions, but at the very least to give those who are still undecided the chance to form their own conclusions. They deserve that right. To want to hear a dissenting voice is not the same as agreeing with it.
Those who protested feel alienated and ignored by the administration, and in their response they have alienated and ignored others. But that is not the only way this story has to go; an alternative was presenting itself at the same time that things on campus came to a head. Even on the angriest day in a long time on campus, members of a small group of people were listening to each other. And they’re going to keep going to, in meetings and personal conversations. Those shouted down in the annex, and all those on campus who feel perpetually ignored by the administration or by their peers, should take heart in that.