November 13, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | In Defense of Campus Diversity

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To the Editor:

You can discern a lot about a person’s character by the way she handles disappointment. I’m concerned that Cornell’s current culture of safe spaces is hindering students from developing the character required to handle disappointment graciously and courageously. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say most of you are disappointed by the results of the recent presidential election which should give you the opportunity to reflect on the values you hold that have made you dissatisfied with the direction you see our country moving in.

I encourage all of you to take this time to reflect on your commitment to diversity. Just a few months ago, The Cornell Daily Sun published an editorial arguing for the College Republicans to renounce Donald Trump. They cited reasons ranging from his temperament to his lack of policy chops but the bulk of their argument rested on an appeal to Cornell’s commitment to diversity.

This University’s commitment to diversity is one of its most unique and beautiful characteristics but it is unnerving that, in a country in which half of the voter block chose Donald Trump, it appears that Cornell students have never had a meaningful conversation with one of those voters.  Is it fair to characterize Cornell as a community committed to celebrating “differences of opinions” when students who voted for a certain candidate are afraid to express support?  What about their “emotional well-being”?

Confession: I’m a conservative and I voted for Donald Trump. And I am grateful I graduated from Cornell when I did, not just because I don’t know that I would be able to find a home at Cornell today. More because I’m not sure I find it very reasonable to expect families to spend nearly $70,000 a year to send a child to an institution that uses that funding to insulate students from opinions that upset them.

As a proud American, I support your right to peaceably assemble and protest. As an adult capable of liberty, I am disappointed in the reaction of the Cornell community. The day after the election, you responded by literally sitting on the ground and crying. What is worse is that student funds were used to provide said students with hot chocolate and coloring supplies. This is not what adulthood looks like.

Consider this: what happens over the coming months and years when those students who were crying in the middle of Ho Plaza (much less the students who are named in organizing it) are ready to have a rational conversation about controversial policies? Their points of view, however valid they may be, have been seriously damaged by their inability to appropriately express disappointment. How can the leaders of Planned Parenthood Generation Action at Cornell expect future debate opponents to take them seriously when they have a demonstrated proclivity to react in a manner not dissimilar to a toddler?

The “cry-in” isn’t the only questionable expression of disappointment seen on campus in response to the elections. Multiple professors cancelled classes because they were reportedly too distraught to do their jobs. Again, is this what we expect from an institution people pay a fortune to attend? Beyond that, we cannot expect students to become responsible adults and citizens capable of life in a civil society when these are the role models they have.

Protest, petition, get involved, let your voices be heard, but do it the right way. We are so fortunate to live in the freest country the world has ever known. Don’t throw away your shot! A robust policy debate creates a civil and liberal society in which anyone can find a place so long as the conversations we have are truly inclusive and open minded. It is easier to coerce than to convince but cutting corners is no way to govern or be governed.

Many things have made Cornell one of the best educational institutions in the world:  rigorous academics, a range of areas of study, and, yes, its diversity. Is Cornell still great? If yes, work to keep it that way.  If no, work to make it so.  Either way, hard work and grit is required of every student.  Seek out differing opinions — it’s not tolerance when you agree. Challenge yourselves and feel uncomfortable. This will not only strengthen your arguments but it will shape you into people capable of disagreeing without being disagreeable.

Megan Tubb ’13