How to talk about politics at college

Honestly, I was thrilled by the number of responses that Nikita Chirkov’s opinion piece covering the Prejudice Today talks drew from fellow students. It makes me glad that people do in fact care about the intersection of politics, culture and religion, and that I haven’t mastered the art of studying things no one cares about. I am not interested in engaging in a “we-respond-they-respond” writing dance in defense of Nikita, even though I think there is much that could be said there. Instead, I think it needs to be noted what our objective must be when we do engage in such a dance, especially over sensitive issues like politics and religion.

First off we should get one thing straight: Colleges shouldn’t be “safe spaces.” Obviously they should be in terms of our persons (both physically and emotionally), but they should not be in terms of our opinions. There is nothing wrong with respectfully attacking another person’s opinion. The notion that there is a “safe space” where certain topics aren’t brought up because they will offend someone is contrary to the idea of personal development. I know that it can be hard, because there are certainly topics and opinions that we hold very dear to ourselves (religious opinions, for example, and the consequences of such). But these must be available for discussion if we are to grow into better-developed young adults while we are here. It is more than possible to have meaningful discussions about sensitive issues while not attacking or criticizing someone’s person.

Second, I think we need to understand how we go about achieving the truth. It can happen two ways: If two people are discussing an issue, either one is right and the other is wrong, or they are both wrong (if each is partially right, that is merely a subspecies of the second case). In the first case, through respectful discussion, the person in the right brings the other to the truth. If the goal of the discussion was not to achieve the truth, but instead was to win, then each would walk away either feeling victorious or frustrated. But if the goal of our discussions is to find the truth of a subject, then we can learn. This is, I think, the hard position to take. At least, it is for me. I rather like being right, and I like being right when others are wrong so that I can tell then just exactly how wrong they are. It is something we must all work on.

The other case, where both interlocutors are in the wrong, is a bit easier on the ego, because they can both come to the truth. Again though, this is only possible because they have the truth, not victory, as their goal. There is room for partisan politics, and there is room for speech aimed at winning. There is no room for those things at a college campus, where we are trying to learn and grow.