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A lost opportunity to talk across differences

“Students”, I wrote, concluding my post defending their right to air all manner of opinions, “need to learn to respond to ideas, even controversial and contemptible ones, with thoughtful arguments.


Yesterday, some Williams students showed that they were up to the challenge; several supporters of Israel attended the anti-Israel “Deconstructing Pinkwashing” panel. That is, they went to listen to scholars, activists, and artists expressing a viewpoint they found contemptible.


They thus continued a Williams tradition stretching back many years.  Students—and faculty—across the generations have come out to respectfully listen to speakers offering opinions at odds with their own. 

At the "Deconstructing Pinkwashing" Panel, the organizers required that all questions be submitted electronically--and did not take any critical of the talk -- or the ideas expressed


In 1982, when I was an undergraduate, Political Science Professor James MacGregor Burns ’39, a close friend of the Kennedy family, walked down to Dodd House to listen to Ray Shamie, the Republican running against Senator Ted Kennedy that year.  He posed a pointed question to the candidate.  Many feminists attended antifeminist Phyllis Schlafly’s lecture in Chapin a year later, a number asking tough questions, and so engaging with an ideological adversary.


Unfortunately, those attending yesterday’s talk did not have the same opportunity.  A student reported that the organizers “required all questions to be submitted electronically, and didn’t ask any of the ones that were critical of the talk”.


They were thus not able to challenge a Williams professor’s contention that the New York Times article confirming reports of Hamas’s “systematic rape” of Israeli women “was a complete fabrication”.


In choosing not to address critical questions, the “Pinkwashing” panelists could thus not engage with those holding opinions at odds with their own.  A chance for students, faculty, and activists to talk across their differences, to learn from those with different viewpoints, was lost. 


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