The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

LETTER: Let your readers make up their own minds

The Editorial Board’s most recent free speech article undermines the very foundation of a free marketplace of ideas

I disagree with the Editorial Board’s calls to deny the ability of those with unpopular viewpoints to be “heard, welcome or respected,” both in general and in the specific case at hand. The Board wrote last week in response to an upcoming discussion with Abigail Shrier, a writer whose book “Irreversible Damage” sparked controversy, including Amazon’s suspension of advertisements for the book’s sale. 

The Board claims that Shrier — unnamed in the editorial — is “anti-transgender” and that the Board “unequivocally and staunchly opposes the views expressed by the author.” It does so, however, without specifying what any of those views are or what makes Shrier anti-transgender. Additionally, the Board does not provide any links or quotations that could let the reader make up their own mind. The Board also fails to provide evidence for why the community should consider Shrier’s work to be among those “ideas on the fringes” that the Board seeks to rally the community against. 

Simply put, the Board wants its readers to “loudly protest their presence and vehemently criticize their perspectives” because, in their eyes, “the right to free speech does not guarantee a space in which to speak comfortably.” 

Is this really the tone that the editors at The Cavalier Daily want to set for the community? Who decides which ideas get to be part of the “free exchange” and those for which proponents, or even curious listeners, will be labeled “bigoted?” The debate among doctors over care for minors experiencing gender dysphoria — one of the topics that Shrier wrote on — is ongoing, most notably in Europe.  If a doctor were brought to Grounds, would they be heard out in an effort to help us “approach some sort of consensus” on the issue, or would they immediately be labeled as “problematic” if their findings clashed with the beliefs of some community members? Again — who decides? The Editorial Board? The loudest student group? 

Such an approach of having someone decide who gets to be part of the free exchange of ideas and who is labeled a bigot is antithetical to Thomas Jefferson’s own conception of the University, where we should not be “afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead.” The Board is turning up the temperature when students are already hesitant to express their views on controversial topics. 

I encourage everyone to listen to the views of those they disagree with. Then, should those words stir feelings of discomfort, loudly promote arguments to counter their claims and invite those who disagree to listen and speak in turn. I encourage everyone to decide for themselves which perspectives are worthy of admiration and allow others to do the same. We must refrain from categorizing others based on the ideas they are exploring. Perhaps then we can begin to develop an “understanding of the world we inhabit”.        

Michael S. Downing is an Assistant Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and a Class of 2017 alumnus. 


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