November 3, 2019

GUEST ROOM | Stop the Silencing

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Last week, I received a text containing the picture shown: An artful take on Cornell Republicans’ controversial decision to invite former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker to speak on Nov. 4. Hilarious. Let’s talk about it.

Forms of expression like this have managed to poke the Big Red free-speech bear in nearly all seven of my semesters here at Cornell. The debate seems to teeter between two schools of thought: freedom of speech and expression at the University versus showing support for individuals publicly criticized for spreading bigoted ideas. Allowing acts of viewpoint discrimination that stifle a healthy contribution to the marketplace of ideas at Cornell is not in anyone’s best interest.

Scott Walker probably doesn’t care about public school teachers. Dick Cheney is probably responsible for the Iraq War. Janique Stewart definitely doesn’t support a woman’s right to choose. Does inviting them to speak at Cornell mean we’re supporting them? I don’t think so. Inviting controversial speakers to Cornell is what makes Cornell Cornell. Our classmates are curious, passionate and eager to take in as much of the real world that our bubble here in Ithaca will allow. If we let the racists, bigots and xenophobes hide in the shadows and not share their opinion with the public, how will we point out their logical fallacies? How will we close the pathway to legislative oppression? How will we predict their actions when those actions could endanger the public? And most of all, how will we find motivation to continue advancing liberal thought in the absence of antagonistic viewpoints?

The vandalism of this flyer is not the chloroform rag I caution will smother free speech at Cornell. In fact, it’s an act of expression that contributes to debate on topics that are of interest to many students. Sure, vandalism is different, but that’s not the point. If the vandal of this flyer wants to rectify Scott Walker’s political opinions, the best way to do so would be to let him speak at Cornell and engage in the debate that follows. Stifling ideas that allow for healthy social discourse could lead to a stifling of other rights we consider fundamental to the student experience. Will our professors be able to continue writing about their political opinions? Will our campus organizations be allowed to take a public stance? Will students be able to speak out against the University in The Sun? We are not here to be comfortable. We are here to be challenged. Listen.

Emma LoMastro is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Comments may be sent to [email protected].