Colby progressives fail to see the irony in their attacks

The past few weeks have been a time of high stress for all. In addition to finals, theses, and graduation, the Colby community has been rocked by abhorrent Yik Yaks and the death of one of our friends and classmates. It’s been a hard time, and it got just a little more hostile this past week.

On May 6, Noah Kopp ‘15 posted a URL to an opinion piece by Taylor Schmitt from The Claremont Independent entitled “How Campus Progressives Ruined Liberalism for the Rest of Us.” I read the piece and thoroughly enjoyed it. The piece explored the problems when liberal students who take a side of an issue dogmatically, refusing to acknowledge dissenting opinions and instead decrying them as racist, sexist and the like. Schmitt concludes that this unwillingness to accept contradictory evidence and opinions has devolved to shaming minority viewpoints, rather than creating constructive dialogue. While I disagreed with some of the article’s individual points, I thought it was an important reminder that all of us need to listen to opposite viewpoints and be constructive in our critiques.

Then, in a bitter twist of irony, the opposite happened. On May 7, two seniors named Laura and Grace each posted a response to the article. Both of them focused not on the overarching theme—which I highly recommend they do—but focused on a single assertion: “It is most likely untrue that 1 in 5 female college students is sexually assaulted.” Schmitt pointed to the fact that “The author of the 1 in 5 study himself said ‘We don’t think one in five is a nationally representative statistic.’” Given that many survivors don’t report their attacks, I disagree with Schmitt on his analysis, as he believes the rate is much lower. However, in response to these assertions, Laura and Grace both chastised Kopp for posting an article that they believe discredited the prevalence of rape. As it was posted the day after Take Back the Night, Laura called Kopp’s action “not only careless, but deeply offensive” while Grace called it “cruel” and “heartless.” I disagree.

While I feel immense sympathy for Laura and Grace for the pain sexual assault has caused them, they took a thoroughly unproductive and imprudent approach in responding. This is due to two interrelated aspects of their posts: context and content. As I briefly mentioned above, a key problem with the arguments Laura and Grace set forth is their myopic interpretation of the matter. They didn’t consider the larger point of the article, rather focusing their attacks on a single paragraph, which they saw as Kopp personally calling the statistic “silly and trivial and liberal propaganda.” I cannot speak for Kopp, but I can only assume that if that was the point he really wanted to focus on, he would have copy and pasted that single paragraph into the discourse instead.

The second issue—content—is the more infuriating part for me. Debating an issue is the cornerstone of our democracy and our identity as liberals. What Laura and Grace wrote was not an argument; it was ad hominem. The reason the email is called the “civil discourse” is because it’s meant for a respectful exchange of ideas. Grace brought up a good point in her response, saying that the number is inherently skewed because not everyone reports. Two of my ex-girlfriends, two of my family members, and at least six of my friends have been raped and not one of them reported it. That’s a suitable retort. However, attacking a person for posting an article that they didn’t even write is not.

Sexual assault is a heinous crime and deserves attention. However, when you silence someone for voicing an opinion, whether it was theirs or not, you are stymying peoples’ willingness to talk about it. How can we welcome different ideas if people are subjected to personal attacks for expressing their belief? It’s not possible. To quote Schmitt, “silencing minority viewpoints does not prove them wrong and says more about those doing the silencing than those being silenced.”

 

 

 

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