There is a difference between hearing and listening, and sometimes I wonder if anybody listens. For the drive-by "Hi!" on the Bryan Center walkway, hearing will suffice, but meaningful discourse mandates that you listen closely.
A student might say, "I don't support the Black Faculty Initiative. Students must recognize that only a small number of black professors are available, and all universities of Duke's caliber compete for such talent. The true solution to a dearth of black professors at Duke is to encourage young, black students to become professors. Then, in 10 or 20 years, we will have a large, strong pool of brilliant, black scholars that all universities can hire."
And other Duke students would have an obligation to listent to the dissenter in their midst and not merely shout back, "Racist!" Never is it appropriate to scorn intellectual, reasoned ideas with the social opprobrium that the epithet "racist" would entail.
A student might say, "I don't think a Women's Studies department is a good idea. A Women's Studies major would require classes from several different disciplines. Would it not be better to offer courses on women's roles in politics in the political science department or to offer courses on women's roles in history in the history department? Perhaps then political science majors (for instance) might be drawn to take classes on women in politics where if those same courses were offered in a separate department they otherwise might not be so inclined."
And other Duke students would have an obligation to listen to the dissenter in their midst and not merely shout back, "Chauvinist!" Never is it appropriate to scorn intellectual, reasoned ideas with the social opprobrium that the epithet "chauvinist" would entail.
What we must do is listen, synthesize and respond in like manner. To the student who does not favor the BFI, proponents should reply, "Until sufficient numbers of black professors are present to provide role models for students, we will never have large numbers of black professors. A university such as Duke must provide those role models to encourage a new generation of black professors."
To the student who argues against a Women's Studies major, proponents should reply, "In the past, traditional departments have not readily supported research into women's studies. To attract leading women's studies scholars, we must offer them a department where their research will be appreciated and decisions on tenure will be based on that appreciation. Only through a Women's Studies department can we guarantee that respect and an unbiased tenure consideration."
In truth, it matters little what actual arguments are presented; the process of argumentation is the critical factor. In a university environment, the adage "Though I disagree with what you say, I defend to the death your right to say it" is crucial, but perhaps we need to add a final proviso.
At Duke, we must not only defend people's right to speak but also agree to listen. Those who hear but do not listen only care that a person take the "appropriate" position. For their cause, they want only support, not individuality; similarly, those who disagree face attacks not for the content of their argument but for the position they take. In other words, were I to speak with the voice of the first two dissenters, it would not be my argument people attack but me as an individual for expressing those views-"Racist!" "Chauvinist!"
What can we do? We must recognize the difference between malicious attacks meant only to wound and arguments against a policy proscription or an ideological position meant to stimulate meaningful discourse. Perhaps I'm an idealist, but at Duke where we are all at least nominally committed to free inquiry, I believe we can separate race, religion, gender, sexual preference or any other deep division from the play of ideas on which a university thrives.
Being against the BFI does not mean someone is a racist; being against a Women's Studies department does not make one a chauvinist. Enough good arguments for both the BFI and the Women's Studies department exist that no offensive labeling of their opponents is necessary. I can only repeat what I have said twice before: We have an obligation to listen to the dissenter in our midst, for never is it appropriate to scorn intellectual, reasoned ideas with the social opprobrium that labeling epithets would entail.
Alex Rogers is a Trinity sophmore.
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