If you know me, you know I like to debate and speak my mind, especially when it comes to highly-charged political issues. But in all the discussions I’ve ever had, no matter how heated they have become, I’ve never once screamed at the top of my lungs in order to drown out the other person’s opinion.
So naturally, as I sat in Lutkin Hall on Tuesday to cover former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ address to students at Northwestern University, as reported Nov. 6 by the Chronicle, I was astonished to hear protestors banging on the walls, breaking through police lines and, in one case, screaming at a high pitch, all to prohibit Sessions from speaking.
Meanwhile, students inside Lutkin Hall engaged in a more productive form of rebellion by politely yet firmly asking Sessions the difficult questions, such as whether President Donald Trump was right to pull U.S. troops from Turkey, while still listening to his point-of-view. They even called out a student officer of Northwestern University College Republicans for censoring the questions submitted by the audience.
Those outside the building, like it or not, were interfering with Sessions’ freedom of speech guaranteed under the First Amendment. It is a difficult pill to swallow, but even racism and white supremacist speech is protected under the First Amendment—just like protestors’ ability to chant “F–k Sessions” outside the hall is protected.
As one student, who is a Trump supporter, pointed out to me: When Democrat Stacey Abrams addressed students on Northwestern’s campus earlier this year, conservative student groups did not interfere with Abrams’ right to speak.
Of course, that said, both sides have taken protesting to the extremes before.
But shouting hate-filled rhetoric at student attendees—which the protestors did after the event concluded—accomplishes nothing except deepening the chasm between political parties. Rather, protestors should have attempted to engage in a productive dialogue or, at the very least, heard what the other side had to say. How is any progress to be made in this country if we’re at each other’s throats from college into adulthood? If anything, college campuses provide the optimal ground for vigorous debate on highly contentious topics. We should be using this to our advantage rather than defaulting to the same hateful rhetoric beginning to define this country.
In a previous editor’s note of mine, “Do not let political apathy get in the way of a historic moment,” I called on Columbia students and young people alike to be engaged in the news and politics in a history making era. What I failed to mention is how to properly engage.
Political clashes rarely occur on Columbia’s majority-liberal campus, so we must take this spar at Northwestern as a lesson. Northwestern students outside Lutkin Hall are a prime example of what not to do; this type of action will get us nowhere. Those inside the hall asking the tough questions are a prime example of what should be done.
Once, in the dead center of a Cheesecake Factory in Cincinnati, Ohio, with my grandmother, who has a different way of looking at the world than I do, we talked about abortion. She began the conversation by leaning over the table and asking me, “Alex, why do women have abortions?” Taking a deep breath, I slowly and carefully explained the far-ranging number of reasons people with uteruses seek out an abortion. Then she asked me why they don’t just give the baby up for adoption, whether they can live with themselves after the fact. And I explained. And she countered. And I re-explained. And she listened. Finally, she said she knew it wasn’t her place to tell anyone whether they can have an abortion or not, but she wished they didn’t have to.
A quiet revolution.