Courtesy of Buena Park High School

May 24, 2024

OBASEKI | Leaving A Promising Cornell

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“A society is in decay, final or transitional, when common sense really becomes uncommon.” – G. K. Chesterton

Cornell’s community is in decay. However, it’s not that common sense at Cornell has become uncommon, it is that we no longer seek to find a shared sense past our disagreement. We find ourselves in a fractured community, where factionalism rules our fleeting discourse. We assume bad faith in the expression of others and continue to divide ourselves to spare our sensibilities, severing our associations to bolster our puritanical egos. We’re all guilty of this to some extent. As we experience each new wave of political polarization, we see an increasing defiance of a basic sense of commonality. The best solution is active engagement in discourse with those we ideologically disagree. Of course, all sides claim to be champions of free speech, but there is a stark difference between speech and discourse — between speaking at and speaking with. To have discourse is to have an interchange of ideas; to approach the table seeking the truth, and to acknowledge that you may lack it. Although this is not all that is needed to heal a fractured campus, it is certainly necessary to proceed in the right direction. It is foolish to assume that a people can thrive if they refuse to compromise, or even understand one another. 

Even this basic truth, that the exchange of ideas is needed for progress, has been undermined countless times this year. Contrary to discourse, a counter-event was organized at the same time and close to the same location as controversial speaker Kathleen Stock, denying attendees the option of learning and exchanging ideas with both events, not just one. Is it not the height of hypocrisy that members of an elite educational institution would deprive students of the opportunity to learn from opposing ideas? Is it not our fundamental goal as an institution to promote the freedom of inquiry that is vital to our educational process? In the resentment of opposition, some people have attacked platforms that host disagreeable voices rather than using that platform to refute those words. The disagreement with hosting certain voices is understandable, but denying that platform altogether benefits no one in the long term. This intolerance not only undermines the essence of education but stifles one’s intellectual growth. Hypocrisy, intolerance, and general narrow-mindedness seem to be what is left of modern political discourse, assisting the caustic factionalism that denies young Cornellians a fruitful political experience. It is no wonder so many students are apathetic about the political landscape of today.

Yet, amidst this disheartening reality, I found solace and inspiration in the Cornell Political Union because it is the very antithesis of this trend. Despite the tensions that often grip our campus, we have remained committed to fostering an environment where voices from across the political spectrum are heard and welcomed, all of whom have been extremely eager to engage and debate with students and faculty. Of course, there have been conflicts that are inherent in any melting pot of political ideologies. However, it is important to recognize that a movement for fostering meaningful dialogue and understanding among individuals with differing beliefs is essential to any educational institution. An enriching educational experience cannot be achieved without a conscious effort to not only exchange ideas with one another, but to practice humility in acknowledging that you may be wrong. With the coming election cycle, tensions will only rise, and fractures will only worsen if we lack the conviction to pursue such civil relations with whom we vehemently disagree.

I want to thank my friends in CPU for continuing the principles that I trust will be vital in repairing our fractured campus. Within CPU, I thank my friends in the Freedom Caucus for the impromptu dinners in collegetown, the banter enjoyed at the various “Lairs” and the general atmosphere of companionship that enriched my experience. I want to thank my friends in the Cornell Democrats and Cornell Republicans for making an effort to engage with our wonderful organization, working against the harmful breakdown of cross-partisan civil discourse. Thank you to Professor Randy Wayne and the Heterodox Academy for your devotion to diversifying Cornell’s ideological landscape. Thank you to Professor Samuel Nelson and the Cornell Speech and Debate Team for instilling in students a valuable passion for debate. While this year went far from smoothly, thank you to Cornell University for this Freedom of Expression theme year. A keen focus on freedom of expression, and the various conflicts inherent to it, have highlighted certain incredibly beneficial values and lessons. Finally, thank you to my friends in the Chesterton House and Lutheran Student Fellowship for keeping me grounded in my faith, what truly mattered the most beyond all of my political endeavors. 

I love this University and all its offerings. It may not be perfect, but it surely made me the man I am today. I have immense hope for the future of our campus. Despite the brewing election cycle, there is a growing bipartisan movement dedicated to civil discourse and debate for our campus. I am a bit jealous that I will not be attending school to witness it in person but I look forward to hearing good news. Regardless, I will leave with this:

Dear Cornellians, for a fruitful educational and developmental experience, strive for that which seems impossible but is feasible with a steadfast dedication to the concept of free speech we all look to champion: a common sense for civil discourse. 

Daniel Obaseki is a graduating senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the President Emeritusof the Cornell Political Union. His fortnightly column Beyond Discourse focuses on politics, culture, and student life at Cornell. He can be reached at [email protected].

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