More than 300 students at Elon University have signed a petition asking the school to disinvite a conservative Pulitzer Prize–winning author, Kathleen Parker, from speaking on their campus in October.
In the petition, the students claim to “have discovered very disturbing things” about Parker, and state that they are “desperately asking our faculty and staff allies to aid us in removing Parker and stopping her from spreading her dangerous rhetoric through the school we love and cherish.”
In covering this controversy, a lot of conservative columnists have taken the time to argue that Parker isn’t even really as radically “conservative” as the petition makes her out to be. For example, the Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson wrote that “Parker . . . isn’t exactly right-wing — just last week she compared Donald Trump to Hitler.) Campus Reform’s William Rierson points out that Parker describes herself as “slightly to the right of center.”
But I’m not going to get into that. To me, engaging in some kind of nuanced discussion about whether Parker is just “kind of conservative” or “super-super, hide your kids, hide-your-wives-in-the-kitchen ultra conservative” distracts from the real issue here: namely, the fact that so many students simply don’t understand the importance of being able to engage with views that they disagree with (like Parker’s) on campus, especially when those views (like Parker’s) are already so prevalent in the outside world.
It’s fine to have problems with Parker. In fact, as someone who holds the view that sexism is, in general, (gasp!) a bigger problem for women than it is for men, I’m sure that I myself would disagree with her on at least a few issues. But here’s the thing: Parker’s views are, by definition, mainstream. They’re being published on hundreds platforms; they’re being read and watched by tens of millions of readers and viewers, and it’s absolutely ignorant to think that keeping her off of your tiny campus is going to do anything to keep her views from “spreading” to your classmates. In fact, given Parker’s reach, her views are ones that (whether directly or indirectly) most of the students on that campus have probably already encountered — and certainly ones that they will encounter in the future.
Now, Elon has reportedly refused to cancel the speech, releasing a statement that argues it’s important to invite “speakers to explore issues from diverse points of view, to challenge us to think deeply and critically about important issues of our time.”This is great news. After all, not only would a cancelation failed to have accomplished what the dissenting students hoped it would, but it also would have deprived those students of a real opportunity to fight against the very views that they consider “dangerous.” For example: They could attend Parker’s speech and ask her tough questions — challenging not only Parker, but also anyone in the crowd who agrees with her, to question their own opinion. They could hold a counter-event. They could write critical op-eds.And if they really do feel this strongly about these issues, they should — because facing and addressing a problem is always a better way to make a difference than running and hiding from it.
— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.