Naik: The need for campus debate

We need institutions that promote debate on campus.

Anant Naik

As a senior at the University of Minnesota, I’ve often found myself gazing in the past, scouring through the many memories stored in the patterns of synapses in my brain. Perhaps the most potent lesson I’ve learned is the need to speak out against those I disagree with rather than pouting or internalizing differences, only to burst out when I’ve had enough. 

When interacting with my peers and other classmates, it’s become undoubtedly obvious that our University is losing the art of having debates and discussions. My romanticized reasons for attending a university were rooted in this art and skill. The ability to disagree with someone else with articulate thoughts and powerful arguments, but also to learn from what your peer articulated is deeply missing in our campus community. When faced with disagreement, many students tend to withdraw from conversations, retreating to ideological bubbles where their argument can neither be challenged or verified.

It’s this mistake that will inevitably cost our generation greatly — quite frankly, it already has. Our frequent response to political and socioeconomic events is to immediately take to the streets in efforts to shut down our opposition, and is part of this problem. Our inability to listen to the opposition and understand their perspective has led to a widening chasm that divides campuses and communities rather than bringing people together. We generalize and homogenize populations so easily and readily contribute to a highly simplistic vision of the world, when in fact there is far more gray than splotches of black and white. 

The environment for debate is once again ripe with the student groups on campus rushing to the Washington Bridge to illustrate the fundamental theses of their respective groups in early October. Some groups will put messages that will be overtly offensive, some will put messages that will be entirely inviting. This will inevitably polarize our campus — it’s up to us whether that polarity will be productive or not, peaceful or not, educational or not. 

Will we once again examine this event as a time of discordance, or utilize it as an opportunity to learn the true skill and art of passionate and respectful debate? Will we respond to this event with logical and well-reasoned arguments or succumb to the sheer whim of our emotional subconscious? Perhaps this indicates the need for our campus to have forums for debates, like those in the time of Socrates and Aristotle. As Desmond Tutu, a South African politician and apartheid opponent, posited at the memorial of Nelson Mandela, “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”