Too Much Safety is a Dangerous Thing
March 13th, 2014
I went to grad school at Stanford and I am appalled that the university has decided to protect its students from anti-gay speech.
Is appalled the right word? “to fill or overcome with horror, consternation, or fear; dismay”
Yes, that’s the word. Apparently this happened:
Last Wednesday evening, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) denied funding for an event hosted by the Stanford Anscombe Society (SAS) following community outcry over alleged “anti-LGBT” content.
SAS’s April conference, titled “Communicating Values,” has a two-fold purpose, according to SAS president Judith Romea ’14, between educating attendees on the public policy issues surrounding marriage and family and exploring how media, entertainment and technology can be used to better facilitate the communication underlying marriage and the family.
SAS had sought $600 in honoraria funds from the GSC for conference speakers. However, members of GradQ, the queer graduate student organization, criticized the speaker list–which included Robert Lopez, Kellie Fiedorek and Ryan Anderson–as inappropriately controversial.
Okay, that’s not the appalling part. Some speakers get funded and some speakers don’t. No, the appalling part is why.
Bringing the speakers to Stanford would threaten the safety of campus for the queer population, according to Brianne Huntsman ’15, who started a Facebook event to organize a rally at the GSC meeting on Wednesday night.
“A lot of students who are queer come to Stanford because it’s one of the most LGBT-friendly places in the world,” Huntsman said. “I grew up in Utah, where it was really conservative and a lot of us come from similar backgrounds, and we feel that we every time we go home. Stanford is supposed to be a safe space for us.”
I am so flipped out that I have to get my mockery out of the way before I can give a measured response.
Oh, I’m sorry, Brianne, did you apply to one of the world’s great universities just so you could have your own precious thoughts reinforced? Is disagreement enough to make you feel unsafe?
Are you longing for the queer equivalent of Liberty Baptist or Bob Jones University, places where frightened evangelicals send their kids to avoid dissenting voices? Are you longing for a world-class education in a place where you never have to defend your views, where you never have to pick apart a deeply flawed argument and tear it to shreds?
Are you under the impression that the university as a “safe space” means anything except a safe space for vigorous and rigorous disagreement and discourse? Are you hoping to enter a diverse and discordant world without having to practice the critical thinking you’ll need to make a change?
When you hear, “Ideas are dangerous,” do you shout an exultant Yes! with a fist in the air, or do you take it as a signal to protect yourself and others from improper thoughts?
In case you’re wondering, that started as sarcasm and ended as a growl.
I can rephrase this with more equanimity using two quotes. First, this from Thomas Jefferson:
For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.
I believe that completely. I believe it rationally, and I believe it with all my heart. I believe it because I have to.
And this from William Butler Yeats:
Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.
The purpose of a great education is not to fill you with appropriate ideas. It’s to bring you into the battle for truth, to arm you, and to sharpen your skills. Now, I don’t know who Kellie Fiedorek is, and Robert Lopez is, frankly, an idiot — or at least so consumed by his own demons that he can’t think clearly. But Ryan Anderson is co-author of What is Marriage? with tenured Princeton professor Robert George. It’s an ill-reasoned piece of crap, but an ill-reasoned piece of crap that showed up in Supreme Court Justice Alito’s Windsor dissent.
I shredded that thing (in my humble opinion) and I did it because I wanted to, because I loved doing it. I did it because I got an education that didn’t just fill me like a bucket. It lit me like a fire. It prepared me to deal with dangerous ideas and maybe offer a few of my own. That’s what Brianne Huntsman and her friends need. Ryan Anderson ought to be welcome to speak at the school, not because his influential ideas are safe, but precisely because they’re not.