The problem is not in the question

Avoiding difficult questions by labeling them as out of bounds for discussion won't help us solve the problems we face as a society.

Despite the promise of spring, there’s been an unusual chill in the air this March. This chill, however, has nothing to do with cold fronts, clippers out of Canada or climate change. In fact, this chill has nothing to do with the weather at all.

No, this chill has befallen the pages of The Minnesota Daily and has everything to do with squelching the dissenting voice before it can be spoken, and it seemed to arrive in full force after the Feb. 28 publishing of Nick Woomer’s article ” ‘Celebrating diversity’ is a recipe for disaster.”

Just what am I talking about? Well, anyone who has even done a cursory study of the First Amendment will be familiar with the phrase “a chilling effect on speech.” Basically, the argument is that if you punish speech near the fringes, you make people afraid of saying what is in the middle.

If you punish those who speak about revolutionary change, maybe you chill those who want to change the government in general. But it need not be just government action that does the chilling. No, as this week has demonstrated, political correctness, a vocal group of activists and the desire to be “inclusive,” creating a “safe campus” or protecting others from disagreeable words will do just fine.

For those of you who are new to the issue, let me give you a quick run down. On Feb. 28, Woomer wrote an article questioning whether “identity politics” and “celebrating diversity” might not have some unintended and negative side effects. Woomer rightfully asked the question, “If (diversity) is such a good thing … to tearfully wallow in victimhood, and if no one else can tell you whether you can properly refer to yourself as a ‘victim,’ what’s wrong with white people or Christian fundamentalists deciding they, too, are victims?” He concluded that: “Instead of ‘celebrating diversity,’ the left must celebrate sameness and the converging interests of superficially divergent groups.”

Now, I must admit, Woomer, a fellow University Law School student whom I have spoken with in the past, and I are on complete opposite ends of the political spectrum. While I generally consider myself a mix of a conservative and libertarian, friends have told me that Woomer could be voted “most likely to start the revolution.” Nevertheless, I thought his article was brilliant, and I told him as such. Sure, I disagreed with his conclusions, but I thought his underlying question was exactly what needed to be asked. Is “celebrating diversity” really the means to our ultimate goal of unity?

Apparently, I’m in the minority on this one, because before the ink had time to dry, the proverbial you-know-what hit the you-know-where. Letters flew in accusing Woomer of being everything from ignorant to an all out racist. Not only did they pour into the Daily, but Woomer received numerous insulting e-mails as well. The whole issue reached its apex March 10, with Libby George’s column “The problems in the Daily’s Feb. 28 issue.” In it, George refers to Woomer’s article in apologetic terms and is loaded with quotes and suggestions that Woomer’s article was out of line.

This, I submit, is the source of the chill in the air. How are we supposed to achieve the “diversity of viewpoints” that college is supposed to bring, succeed in opening minds to new ideas and thoughts, and challenge the status quo if we are unwilling to allow someone to ask the question?

How are we to learn to defend our positions and critically analyze the world if we shun those who dare to point out that the emperor is not wearing any clothes? To face those questions and give them our consideration should be the goal of our educational institution, not to simply dismiss them because they might make us uncomfortable or break out of the status quo.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem that is just found on the pages of the Daily. Whether it is Larry Summers, Harvard University president, daring to question whether innate differences in the sexes might result in differences in math and sciences, Ward Churchill suggesting that U.S. citizens take blame for the events of Sept. 11, 2001, or Woomer questioning the wisdom of “celebrating diversity,” we should embrace the question and defeat it not with our shouts of “foul,” but with our reasoned answers.

Strangely, lost in the whole argument is the question that Woomer first posed, is there a danger in today’s politics of difference? Instead of facing that challenge and debating the merits of that point, our campus has instead chosen to dismiss the question as beyond fair game. My fellow students, we can label Galileo a heretic, but that does not mean the sun revolves around the Earth.

Cory Olson is a University Law School student and welcomes comments at [email protected]