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Editorial: Attending Amy Coney Barrett’s lecture will help us understand opposing viewpoints

The Associate Justice will be on campus for the Law School’s annual Stein Lecture.
Image by Sarah Mai

The University of Minnesota Law School on Sept. 6 announced the guest for its 2023 Stein Lecture, an annual conversation between former dean Robert A. Stein and a leader in the legal field: Amy Coney Barrett, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Barrett is one of the most conservative voices on the Court, having helped overturn Roe v. Wade among other controversial decisions. 

The idea of Barrett speaking at our University shocks many students. Organizations like Students for a Democratic Society are already planning to disrupt the event, calling on students to “reserv[e] tickets so less people will be able to go.” I’m writing to explore why many students believe Barrett should not have been invited to speak, and ultimately to encourage you, my fellow student, to attend her talk and expand your perspective.

The general argument against inviting Barrett goes like this: (1) Inviting Barrett to speak legitimizes hateful ideas (and helps them spread); (2) Hateful ideas should not be legitimized; therefore, (3) Barrett should not be invited to speak.

A person who believes abortion and affirmative action are wrong and has worked against them her whole career holds hateful ideas, many say. Giving such a person as prestigious and as large a stage as Northrop on which to speak is wrong, as it gives legitimacy to her hateful views. Thus, Barrett should not have been invited to speak at Northrop.

This is also the thought process behind disrupting her speech. Now that she has been given a platform, it is up to us to take it away from her and her hateful ideas.

We are afraid of giving hateful ideas legitimacy because legitimacy helps ideas spread.

In this case however, legitimacy doesn’t matter. Anti-abortion and anti-affirmative action views are already widespread. 44% of US adults consider themselves “pro-life” and 50% of US adults disapprove of colleges considering race in admissions decisions, meaning more than 100 million Americans hold some form of Barrett’s views on abortion and affirmative action.

More than 100 million Americans already hold the ideas which we fear the lecture may legitimize. Barrett’s lecture is unlikely to change anyone’s minds on these contentious issues so legitimacy isn’t a concern.

If no one is going to change their minds as a result of the talk, why should anyone even go?

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 72% of Democrats and 63% of Republicans consider people from the opposing party more “dishonest” and “immoral” than other Americans, and that these numbers are rising every year. We seem more interested in “what” someone believes, not “why” they believe it.

But asking what someone believes only draws a caricature; asking why paints a portrait. The reasons which led a person to their beliefs tell us what their values are. They tell us what gives a person hope, what makes them afraid, the kind of world they wish to live in.

Asking “why” is the key to building respect and fostering cooperation across the political divide. 

For us college students who spend our lives in the bubble of our big public university, this lecture affords a rare chance to hear directly from one of the 100 million Americans who hold different views. A chance to not run away from difference, but explore it with sincerity and curiosity. A chance to ask “why,” not just “what.”

I’ll be attending Justice Barrett’s lecture and I hope to see you there.

Muthu Meenakshisundaram is a second-year student at the University of Minnesota-Morris studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE).

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