Student Debate Will Help Strengthen Personal Views

To the Editors:

When some anti-Semitic signs appeared on campus, President Ambar announced that her administration will not automatically amplify those messages by informing the entire campus each time they appear. But she will surely do an all-campus notification if need be.

I have no idea if she explained to students or the campus what her rationale was before taking this action; in any case, her position does seem to be a good one, if only because there is nothing anyone can ever do to prevent one person — perhaps not even associated with the College — from having the power to sow fear throughout the entire campus by posting hate-filled scribblings.

When President Ambar visited New York City about two weeks ago, she received a few questions from alumni and Oberlin friends about anti-Semitism on campus. I wasn’t there, but I learned that one questioner indicated that a mother had chosen not to enroll her son at Oberlin because she had heard that anti-Semitism is rampant, and far too little is being done to stamp it out.

Arguably, Oberlin College today towers above all other institutions in its abhorrence to anti-Semitism, racism, or any other form of discrimination, injustice, etc. But even here, too many of these evils are alive; therefore, we must redouble our efforts to protect, nurture, and embrace diversity and differences. Specifically, except when there is a reasonable risk of immediate danger, we must become known for our eagerness to hear students, faculty, and especially outside guests whose views we find most repugnant.

The few who may be anti-Semitic, who may wish to use the n-word, who might feel that America belongs to the purest white people, should find at Oberlin an audience willing to debate, not an audience attempting to silence the speakers.

Few holding inflammatory views are generally eager to speak openly. That’s understandable. We should have debates where there is role-playing. In fact, Oberlin has long encouraged students to debate the many sides of arguments or views. These open debates do not necessarily need the actual persons holding despicable views. In fact, we can often examine and critique views more easily when we are not distracted by the presenter.

All professors are in pursuit of the truth and most, along with the many capable students, are willing to help us all become stronger and more effective defenders of our core values of loving, caring, and empowering all humanity. An argument is that we should never give certain people a platform to express hatred. Because these people already have that right under the First Amendment, it is better to offer them an open forum where their opinions may be properly challenged.

Booker C. Peek
Emeritus Associate Professor of Africana Studies