Keeping it civil: Easy steps for improving the quality and quanity of discourse on campus

By Gavin Meade ’20

Tags opinion

The end of a school year is a good time for reflection and crafting goals for the year to come, assuming you have another year of school ahead of you. In my first year at Hamilton, I have had the pleasure of writing two previous Op-Ed pieces for The Spectator and have largely been pleased with the articles and subsequent responses to them. I am, however, troubled. I have seen an issue with the student body of the College that I believe is demonstrated in the responses to my articles and represents a microcosm of a larger issue in the culture on campus.

My first article concerned how overzealous people on the left can silence free speech and contribute to a culture of political discord, while my second discussed the factors that feed into GPA and class rank and examined the options for course credit while taking into account relative difficulties of classes. Shortly after these articles were published, I received comments and thoughts from people I knew and people I did not. I loved it. I loved that people disagreed with me and loved the people who shared my sentiments. I noticed, though, that in some cases, there was a troubling attitude displayed by a number of those students who disagreed with me.

I realize, of course, that an opinion-based article does not have to be widely liked or agreed upon. And that is good—after all, where is the fun in total consensus? When people reached out to correct me or disagree with me, I truly appreciated it. It showed that they were passionate about the issue and they took the time to point out my incongruities or inaccuracies and shared their own opinion. That style of critique is what we need more of at Hamilton, and in general, as it is far superior to the second type of criticism that I received.

When people express their disagreement by dismissing the points I made and slapping a label on me, it does not push their point further. It just creates conflict. Assuming that because I am a STEM major I do not appreciate the arts is inaccurate, just as it would be inaccurate for me to say that because you are a theatre major you cannot appreciate or understand organic chemistry. When you disagree with someone, you should engage with them and debate with them instead of making assumptions or throwing around labels.

I have used my articles as just one example, but this is an issue I feel runs rampant on campus. I understand that I am only finishing my first year here and that I may not understand the culture of campus as a whole. If you feel that way, let me know! Moving on, it is all too easy for students on this campus to dismiss each other by throwing labels. In a Women’s Studies course, if you disagree with someone and call them a misogynist it does not make you right or make that person understand your point even if you are 100 percent correct. If, instead, you engaged them, challenged their viewpoint and had a constructive conversation, you both may come off better. If you have a bad interaction with someone in Commons and you label them as a “dumb sports kid” because they play lacrosse or football, you attach to this person—someone you do not know at all—a stigma that is disingenuous.

It is not fair for you to assume that because you disagree with someone that they are automatically a racist, homophobe, misogynist, elitist etc. You do not win an argument by demeaning the other person or taking the “moral high ground.” Splitting people into camps is how we end up with a president who rides his way to the White House on a wave of wild accusations, insults and turning people against each other. Can we not—and I know how disgustingly cliché this sounds—just talk to each other? I am not trying to posit that you have to get along with everyone or agree with everyone. All I am saying is it may be worth your while to engage and debate rather than critique and label.

Going forward, we should all focus on keeping our discourse more civil when we encounter others in our community with differences in opinion. Trust me, it is for the best.

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